County: guns OK on premises

Visitors to the Custer County Courthouse and other county buildings will be able to carry a gun—concealed or otherwise—into the courthouse in the near future, due to a resolution passed at the latest meeting of the Custer County Commission.
The commission, by a 3-1 vote, passed Resolution 2020-18, which allows county employees and the public to possess conceal carry firearms in or on the courthouse and county property. The resolution was later amended to allow carry of any kind, not just concealed carry.
The vote came after about 10 minutes of discussion on the issue, which the commission has been discussing for the better part of three years.
In July, a new law passed by the S.D. State Legislature went into effect, which allows county employees who work in the courthouse to carry a firearm as long as they are not in an area under use by the court system. At the time, the county employee handbook forbode employees from bringing a gun to work, which reinvigorated the carrying in the courthouse debate. The commission wrestled with whether employees should be able to bring guns to the courthouse and, if so, which employees and in which areas of the courthouse they would be allowed.
Commissioner Mark Hartman, long a proponent of allowing carrying for all at the courthouse, made a motion to pass the resolution, citing safety measures already taken by the commission to secure the courthouse, such as deputies inside and outside the courtroom and a metal detector outside the courtroom.
“I feel like we have gone above and beyond,” he said. “Hopefully the court understands we have considered them and tried to keep the area protected.”
When the commission considered passing a similar resolution a few years ago, Seventh Judicial Circuit Court presiding Judge Craig Pfeifle strongly urged the commission not to allow weapons in the courthouse. He suggested the Seventh Judicial Circuit may refuse to hold court at the Custer County Courthouse if the resolution was passed. Prior to the implementation of the new law in July, only certified law enforcement and judges were allowed to have guns inside a courthouse.
State’s attorney Tracy Kelley suggested the commission wait to hear from Pfeifle on the issue before passing the resolution, but Hartman was unmoved. He has said previously he doesn’t want the courthouse to be a sitting duck for bad actors who may come to the courthouse to cause problems. He added the general public undoubtedly already carries concealed firearms into the courthouse.
“We have that state law that changed basically everything. He can come talk to us, but nothing is going to change,” he said. “He can’t override state law, which allows employees (to carry). Unless we guard all the doors and start putting metal detectors in (at the entrances) we aren’t going to stop the public.”
Kelley said it is imperative the commission get clarification of which areas of the courthouse, specifically on court days, are considered in use by the court system, and therefore, illegal to carry into. It’s possible even the bathrooms in the area as well as the hallways could be considered in use on court days, she said.
“If any employee carries into those areas (deemed in use by the courts) they are not protected and can be arrested,” she said.
In seconding the motion, commissioner Jesse Sorenson said he “whole-heartedly” agreed with Hartman because a bad actor who comes to the courthouse with ill intent isn’t going to abide by a resolution or signs on the door.
“Only an outlaw is going to come in and cause damage anyway,” he said.
Commission chairman Jim Lintz said he feels it is important for the employees who want to do so to carry in the courthouse, but he believes it’s reasonable to say the general public cannot carry a gun into the courthouse.
Kelley urged the commission to consider the insurance implications of passing the resolution, as if something happens at the courthouse the county will be liable. It can be argued the county isn’t liable for gun violence in county buildings right now because they aren’t allowed, she said, but that could go out the window if the county passes an ordinances condoning the practice of bringing firearms into those buildings.
“The minute they walk in (with a gun) they are violating the law,” she said. “You aren’t condoning it. You aren’t inviting it. I think under your immunities you have good coverage (without the ordinance).”
She said an insurance provider had told the commission in the past that if they passed such a resolution they would no longer be covered.
“Even if you have the employees sign waivers, those waivers aren’t going to be worth the paper they are written on,” she said.
She reminded the commission that the recent employee survey regarding the issue showed most of the employees wanted other employees who were going to carry to work to have taken an enhanced carry course. The ordinance requires no such course to be taken prior to an employee bringing a gun to work.
Hartman, Sorenson and Craig Hindle voted in favor of the resolution, while Mike Linde voted no, saying he would like to find out more about the county’s potential liability.
“I don’t think we’ve been foolish. I think we have worked really hard and talked about this for a long time,” Hartman said.
The commission recommended the employee handbook state county employees who decide to bring a gun to work are “highly encouraged” to obtain an enhanced carry card, although it is not required. The county handbook will also be changed so employees know carrying a gun to work is not a condition of employment and they are not required to defend someone else should they bring a gun to work.
The resolution will now be published and will take effect 20 days afterwards.

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