Disarmament in the court

Oct. 23, 2013 @ 06:07 PM

We muse often in this space about our concern that guns are too widespread in our society. But we understand and acknowledge that there is a constitutional right to their possession – and that the vast majority of people who have guns have them for legitimate reasons and use them safely.

Still, we think there ought to be some fairly broad agreement there are places that, constitutional rights or no, you shouldn’t take guns – and should not be the least bit surprised they are prohibited.

Certainly one of those would be a courthouse. By definition, many people who congregate there likely have some anger issues toward others in close proximity – whether victims facing attackers in criminal cases or warring spouses in civil cases, for example.

There are not just a few such people milling about the courthouse on any given day – there are lots of them. They are in the same courtrooms or hallways. Many are not at all happy to be there.

Surely, any one entering that atmosphere should expect authorities would look with disfavor, if not alarm, on anyone carrying weapons through the doors. If common sense didn’t dictate that, the metal detectors and armed deputies at the entrance should be a tip-off.

Nonetheless, in the eight months the new courthouse downtown has been open, sheriff’s deputies have found 1,280 weapons on people trying to enter the building. Assuming the courthouse is open for business five days a week, that works out to more than seven weapons every day.

Some of those missteps are accidental. It’s not unreasonable to assume the visitors whose hammers have been confiscated at the metal detector were coming from or heading to work and simply didn’t think the routine tool would be seen as a potential threat.

But others are on people who, amazingly, try to circumvent security and presumably think that’s OK. 

Deputies do try to draw the distinction.

“If they try to defeat the detector by not taking their belt off or emptying their pockets and we find a weapon, they’re charged with carrying a concealed weapon,” Sgt. Jeff Daughtry told The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch, who detailed the fruits of the metal detectors’ work Wednesday. Daughtry supervises court security.

The security at the entrance is only part of what Daughtry and his colleagues bring to bear. Twenty-seven deputies help ensure safety inside the courthouse, and more than 200 cameras monitor and, authorities hope, deter illegal or disruptive behavior.

“We often have very volatile situations in the courthouse – people going through child custody, divorce, people charged with crimes, victims of crime, people being foreclosed and evicted,” observed Durham County sheriff’s Major Paul Martin.

Marshall Wyatt Earp, so wild-west mythology has it, helped curb violence in Tombstone by making bar patrons check their six-guns at the door. The modern equivalent of that in a courthouse filled with the sort of tinder Martin describes seems like a very sound idea.