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Judges could carry weapons without obtaining a license from the Texas Department of Public Safety under a bill filed for consideration by the Legislature this year. Under the state’s concealed weapons law, anyone carrying a handgun without a license can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $4,000 fine. Law enforcement personnel, parole officers, community supervision officers and corrections officers are exempt from the law; judges aren’t. “I want to allow judges to carry concealed weapons without a license,” says Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the bill’s author. “We’ve had judges in this state killed, shot to death in their courtrooms.” One of the worst shootings incidents in a Texas courtroom occurred on July 1, 1992, at the Tarrant County Courthouse. Upset over his child custody case, George Lott shot to death two lawyers, and wounded two justices on the 2nd Court of Appeals and another lawyer. Lott, a lawyer who represented himself at his trial in Amarillo, was executed in 1994 for the murders of Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Chris Marshall and Dallas lawyer John Edwards. Wentworth, of counsel at Arter & Hadden in San Antonio, says some judges have asked him for the right to arm themselves. “I believe they’re entitled to it,” he says. Lago Vista Municipal Court Judge Robert Thompson says judges often are the victims of retaliation. Thompson says people get angry when he fines them for traffic tickets. “They come in and want to take over the courtroom,” he says. Although his car has been vandalized several times, Thompson says he hasn’t been attacked but has “felt threatened” at times. Thompson says that if a judge witnesses a breach of the peace or sees a crime committed, he has the power to make an arrest. But he adds, “Nobody’s going to make an arrest if he can’t protect himself.” The concealed weapons law doesn’t prohibit judges from carrying a handgun if they’re licensed. The fee for a judge to obtain a license is $25 — substantially less than the $140 standard fee paid by other applicants. The license must be renewed every four years. But to be licensed, an applicant must complete a minimum of 10 hours of training in the use of his firearm under a qualified instructor certified by the DPS. Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant, a member of Texans Against Gun Violence, says he would be reluctant to allow people to “get around” the law. The law requires minimal training to assure that licensees are proficient with their handguns, he says. “A number of judges are probably very proficient with their weapons. Some aren’t,” Elfant says. “It’s not too much to ask someone who carries a weapon in a public place to take the 10 hours of training.” Elfant says measures have been taken to tighten security at courthouses around the state. Many require visitors to pass through security checkpoints with metal detectors, he says. But Thompson — a municipal judge for the past nine years — says municipal judges, particularly ones who serve small communities, don’t have the security and protection available in county courthouses. Elfant says all public places, including courtrooms in rural areas, should have security plans to meet their needs so that judges don’t feel the need to arm themselves. Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff referred Wentworth’s proposal, S.B. 118, to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee chaired by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. This is the second time Wentworth has filed the legislation. His bill died in the Senate State Affairs Committee in the 1999 session.

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