Sunday, September 21, 2014

Courthouse carry curbed by county

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 12/18/2013

County leaders have the next four years to decide if or how to keep the Franklin County Courthouse, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa, exempt from the state’s concealed carry law.

A new resolution was passed Wednesday morning by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners continuing the courthouse’s exemption from allowing concealed carry weapons through the next four years since the building will have an “adequate security plan” in place beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the resolution said.

County leaders have the next four years to decide if or how to keep the Franklin County Courthouse, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa, exempt from the state’s concealed carry law.

A new resolution was passed Wednesday morning by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners continuing the courthouse’s exemption from allowing concealed carry weapons through the next four years since the building will have an “adequate security plan” in place beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the resolution said.

“A security plan has been developed for the building being exempted, which supplies adequate security to the occupants of the building and merits the prohibition of the carrying of a concealed handgun as authorized by the Personal and Family Protection Act,” according to county documents. The exemption will last through Dec. 31, 2017.

A new state law went into effect July 1 with a mandate that if a government entity did not want concealed carry permit holders to bring weapons into its buildings, it would have to implement “adequate security measures” at public entrances. Government entities and municipalities have until Dec. 31 to decide how to move forward.

“The purpose of putting the four-year exemption on is to further consider what can be done to be in compliance with the Personal and Family Protection Act,” Steve Harris, chairman of the board of commissioners, said. “If we do something [at the courthouse after four years] it’s going to involve equipment and have an armed security guard at the entrance.”

Other buildings like the 911 dispatch center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, and Juvenile Detention Center, 226 S. Beech St., Ottawa, already are exempted by state statute, Harris said. One county building not exempted beginning Jan. 1 will be the Franklin County Office Annex, 1428 S. Main St., Ottawa, he said.

“With the annex, that building is open and also has Ottawa Family Physicians and [Ransom Memorial Hospital] so it’s not just a county building or occupied by just county employees,” he said. “The building is open beyond county business hours and also on the weekend.”

County employees not otherwise given permission by the sheriff are not allowed to bring weapons of any kind onto the premises, according to the resolution. A list of those weapons are listed on the resolution and can be found on the county’s website.

Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Richards and Undersheriff Rick Geist conducted a study and reported their observations back to the county for guidance on which buildings to exempt from concealed carry weapons and which to not exempt, Harris said.

“It’d be just the courthouse because if we were to do all the county buildings, it’d be over $1 million in salaries a year,” he said.

Between equipment costs and the salaries of armed personnel who would have to be at every entrance of every county building, the decision to go with just the courthouse being exempted for the next four years made the most sense, he said.

The district court never came under consideration, Harris said, because it already has a metal detector and armed personnel at the entrance. Commissioners and county personnel also are waiting to exempt more facilities to see if the legislature makes any other changes to the statute, he said.

“That’s one of the things we’re cognizant of — things change,” he said. “The statute could be rescinded, amended and be different in four years. But if it stays as it is, at the end of four years, you’ve got to put a security plan in place to keep concealed carry [weapons] out, buy equipment and have guards or you allow [concealed carry weapons] and put up new signs and bring conceal carry in.”

Come December 2017, county officials will have to decide if and which county facilities will be exempted from concealed carry weapons, Harris said, but just because a facility doesn’t allow weapons, doesn’t mean everyone’s going to follow the rules.

“Just because you have a sign on the door, it’s not going to keep people from doing what they want to do,” he said. “As we all know in the U.S., if a bad person wants to do something, they can overcome a secure area.”

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