Deregulating courthouse firearm prohibition at the state and local levels has been a growing national trend. In response to recent courtroom events, several states have begun to pass measures exempting more people from gun restrictions in court. Virginia’s House Bill 288 aims to allow city and county treasurers to carry. North Carolina goes even further, pushing for all elected officials to be exempt. Illinois has a bill seeking to allow all judges to carry while New Hampshire has a measure on the table to repeal the restrictions for the general public.
This is, of course, an extension of the greater gun debate, and, as with most social issues, that debate revolves around how you interpret the Constitution.
The Constitution was intended to remain a permanent framework for government. It was written with a degree of ambiguity in the language so that it might be interpreted and adjusted to correspond with changing issues and changing times. While interpreting the letter of the law as anything other than literal is often seen as a violation, how to interpret the spirit of the law has historically been contextual. The spirit of the law itself is sacrosanct to most people, yet there is legitimate room to argue how to apply it to a present-day context. The present-day gun debate focuses on that argument.
The letter of the second amendment says that one has the right to keep and bear arms. That means to both own and carry. The spirit of the second amendment – the actual intention at its base – was to ensure the ability of the citizens to defend themselves. If the spirit of a law should address the context of the time period, then originally, the purpose of the second amendment was to afford the citizenry the ability to defend themselves against government oppression. This form of self-defense applied to the the infant United States, a nation recently freed from government oppression; today’s United States is no different – we need our Constitution to protect ourselves from an over-reaching government. That was the original intent of drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; nothing is different today.
The concern with the issue of guns in court is directly in line with this. Yes, deputies carry guns in the courtroom to maintain order, but anti-prohibition proponents argue that deputies can’t negate every risk to personal security. For instance, people who know they can’t carry their firearms into the courthouse will leave them at home or in their cars, thereby leaving themselves vulnerable at any number of locations on the courthouse grounds that are outside the direct oversight of the peace officers. It is a legitimate concern as often both officials and citizens are in court to take action against certain people, and those people often seek to retaliate because of the action being taken.
In June of 2012, a Virginia man involved in a custody battle was arrested after shooting at his opponent’s lawyer on the courthouse steps. In August of 2012 in Illinois, where the initiative to allow judges to carry firearms is being pushed, an unarmed judge was stabbed when he tried to subdue a man attacking a female corrections officer. As these incidents have occurred with more frequency, state level deregulatory initiatives have gained traction in local legislatures.