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Texas AG sues Waller County over open carry

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Waller County over its ban on guns at its courthouse.

The suit, filed Monday afternoon in district court in Travis County, centers on a provision of Texas' new open carry law, which took effect in January. The law, which allows Texans with licenses to openly carry handguns, has an exemption prohibiting firearms "on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court," unless a written regulation or the individual court authorizes it.

Paxton argues in the suit that the exemption does not apply to the courthouse in Waller County because the building has non-judicial areas like the county clerk's office.

“A local government cannot be allowed to flout Texas’s licensed carry laws, or any state law, simply because it disagrees with the law or doesn’t feel like honoring it,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “I will vigilantly protect and preserve the Second Amendment rights of Texans.”

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said in an email Tuesday that his office hadn't seen the lawsuit. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dorsey said in an Aug. 4 letter quoted in the lawsuit that the county views the courthouse as "a place where firearms and other weapons are prohibited" under Texas law.

Officials in Austin have a similar view about the state capital's city hall. In July, Paxton sued Austin over its ban of handguns at the building.

Texas Carry Founder Terry Holcomb.

The Waller County issue began when Terry Holcomb Sr. saw a sign in May prohibiting guns at the courthouse. Waller County sued Holcomb, founder and executive director of the gun rights group Texas Carry, to settle the issue in a local district court. That lawsuit "is a more appropriate legal avenue for deciding Mr. Holcomb's rights and then county's rights under the relevant laws," Dorsey said in an Aug. 29 letter. Holcomb's group has challenged dozens of county governments over firearm bans.

Since March, Paxton's office has sent 18 letters to cities and counties after people complained about signs that banned handguns from premises or buildings.

"When uncooperative governments post signs to ban Texas citizens from carrying where it is legal, they are breaking the law and infringing on Texans' Second Amendment rights," a note reads on the attorney general's website.

The note says citizens may file complaints against government entities that post signs prohibiting weapons in places where licenses holders are allowed to carry. Citizens should contact the attorney general's office if the local entity doesn't resolve the violation within three days, the note says.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune here.

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