Guns in courthouse shot down

Jason Ferguson

Custer County Commissioner Mark Hartman made a motion to reinstate a previously rescinded county resolution to allow firearms to be carried by the general public into the Custer County Courthouse outside of areas in use by the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court.
He knew his motion’s fate before he made it, however.
“I’m not expecting a second on my motion,” he said.
The motion, made at the commission’s July 28 meeting, did in fact receive a second, from commissioner Travis Bies. Bies said he would second the motion for the purpose of discussion only.
“I’m not going to vote to pass this resolution,” he said. “Is this fight really worth it? We have to pick our battles. I don’t feel this particular one is worth it.”
When the vote was taken, only Hartman voted in favor of reinstating the resolution to allow the public to carry firearms into the courthouse. Bies and commissioners Mike Linde and Craig Hindle voted against reinstating the resolution.
The vote seemingly brings an end to what has been a nearly year-long ordeal which began with the commission approving allowing the public to carry guns into the courthouse via resolution during a vote last November.
The resolution implementation was followed by the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court deciding against holding court at the Custer County Courthouse, citing safety concerns.
While Seventh Circuit judges refused to come to Custer, county court was held either in Pennington County or via audiovisual means in the Custer County Courthouse. During that time some encouraged the commission to stand firm on its resolution, many citing the Second Amendment, while others argued firearms don’t belong in a courthouse and the inconvenience of having court in Pennington County made the resolution untenable. The Seventh Judicial Circuit Court’s decision was later affirmed by the S.D. Supreme Court, an affirmation Seventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Pfeifle said still stands.
The resolution did not authorize firearms in the courtroom; that was still expressly forbidden. Only law enforcement and judges may have firearms in a courtroom. Rather, the resolution opened up the rest of the courthouse—save for the area under use by the Seventh Judicial Circuit—to firearm-carry by the general public. A law passed last July already allowed courthouse employees to carry firearms in the courthouse.
The Seventh Judicial Circuit had the power, granted by the legislature, to overturn the county’s resolution. Instead, the court refused to send judges to Custer.
On Jan. 27, the commission rescinded the ordinance, but not before the motion was amended to revisit the issue in six months—July 28—at the behest of commissioners Hartman and Hindle, who said they did not want to see the issue go away and that they wished the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court judges would work with them to find common ground.
Meanwhile, Hindle carried on a dialogue with Pfeifle and a security expert with the U.S. Marshall’s Service conducted a security review of the courthouse.
At the July 28 meeting Pfeifle told the commission the Seventh Judicial Circuit’s position hasn’t changed, although he said if the county could provide assurance the first floor would be secure via locking the east and west doors of the building and having a full-time metal detector at the front door regardless of whether court is being held that day, the Seventh Circuit wouldn’t move court out of the building again.
“With that, if you can cobble together a plan that makes sense for the rest of your facility based upon your desires, we won’t take any other actions,” Pfeifle said. “We aren’t in favor of that and I don’t think it’s the best policy, but I think we can live with that.”
“We would have to man metal detectors all the time?” Bies asked.
“That would be our request,” Pfeifle said.
Hartman said in previous discussions the idea of having the metal detector moved to the front door on court days was discussed and makes sense to protect the court area, but balked at the idea of adding a full-time guard for a metal detector.
“There is no way we are going to man that thing full-time with someone at the door,” he said.
Pfeifle said he wanted to make sure the commission understood not having firearms in the courthouse wasn’t to protect the judges, who assume some level of risk with their jobs, but rather other people who work in the courthouse and those who come to the courthouse to conduct business there.
“One of the things we try to strive for is when they come here, they come here in recognition this is the best and safest place to resolve those issues and they can do so without significant worry,” he said.
Pfeifle also mentioned Darin Swanston, the U.S. Marshall who conducted the courthouse security review, who believed the way to keep the courthouse, which he said was already quite secure, in its most secure state was to not introduce firearms into it. A court security advisory group has echoed those comments, Pfeifle said.
“We wanted to make sure we recognize there are those who do this for a living and understand this better than I do,” he said. “I have some personal thoughts and experience, but we want to make sure we rely on those we ask to make those evaluations.”
Pfeifle said the court wasn’t concerned with county employees carrying firearms into the courthouse, which they are allowed to do via state statute, except for areas used by the court.
“My preference would be if they elect to carry pursuant to state statute they leave their weapons in the office while they do their business on the first floor,” he said.
Pfeifle left the meeting after his talk, which was followed by a pair of citizens speaking in favor of firearms in the courthouse. One of those, Patrick Baumann, said he wished Pfeifle had stuck around to hear him speak.
“He’s the one bringing the politics in. He’s the one with overreach,” he said. “I wanted to say that to his face. I hope an attempt of overreach by the judicial system for a bogus reason isn’t going to stop you.”
Baumann said the commission was elected to represent the people of Custer County and make the rules of the courthouse, saying the judicial system continues to put its thumb on the commission. Baumann reminded the audience Custer County is a Second Amendment Sanctuary and Pfeifle could be near people with firearms the minute he crosses the county line from Pennington County to the minute he steps inside the courthouse.
“He’s asserting the distance from the door of this building to the door of the courtroom is going to turn his world upside down if there is a firearm in it,” he said. “That is utter nonsense.”
Linde asked Baumann if he was willing to pay extra taxes to man an additional deputy at a metal detector all day at the courthouse.
“A lot of people are not,” he said.
“You don’t have to bow to Judge Pfeifle’s whims. You don’t have to bow to a metal detector down there,” Baumann said.
Keith Glover, the other resident to speak, said it’s likely people have already carried firearms into the courthouse and nothing has happened because of it. He said the court system is “dreaming up scenarios” that have never existed in the county and is trying to make rules that expand its level of control.
“They are stepping outside the bounds of their legal authority,” he said. “You guys make the laws here.”
District 30 Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, who was also at the meeting, asked where were all the people against firearms in the courthouse, as those in favor of the resolution were at the meeting.
“If there were people who felt really strongly about it they probably should have been here,” she said. “These people cared enough to come and let you know how they feel.”
Custer County state’s attorney Tracy Kelley said many people have approached commissioners outside of meetings to voice displeasure with the prospect.
“They have to respect the people sitting here, but also have to respect the information provided by taxpayers who aren’t here, but have taken the time to express those concerns,” she said.
Bies said he didn’t want the Custer County Courthouse to have the feel of the Pennington County Courthouse, where you are immediately greeted by security and metal detectors.
“It’s like going on a plane. They about strip you down,” he said. “I don’t want that here in Custer County. I have a feeling if we do this we’re going to have that here.”
Commission chairman Jim Lintz said his biggest goal
is to keep employees safe, which he said has been accomplished since state statute allows them to carry at work.
“I don’t think the fight is worth it to allow the public to carry,” he said.
Hartman said he took an oath to uphold the Constitution when he became a commissioner, which includes defending the Second Amendment, which is why he continued to champion the resolution.
He, too, however, grew weary of the fight.
“We need to move on,” he said.

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