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Austin officials are violating the Government Code in barring handgun licensees from carrying within City Hall, according to a statement released by the Office of the Attorney General yesterday. After investigation of a citizen complaint regarding their exclusion, Attorney General Ken Paxton determined that the City of Austin is in violation of section 411.209 of the Government Code.

Section 411.209(a) of the code reads:

A state agency or a political subdivision of the state may not provide notice by a communication described by Section 30.06, Penal Code, or by any sign expressly referring to that law or to a concealed handgun license, that a license holder carrying a handgun under the authority of this subchapter is prohibited from entering or remaining on a premises or other place owned or leased by the governmental entity unless license holders are prohibited from carrying a handgun on the premises or other places by Section 46.03 or 46.035, Penal Code.

Generally speaking, government entities are not allowed to ban handgun licensees from carrying on government property unless the building fits a narrow definition outlined in the Government Code, which provides an exception for a “government court or offices utilized by the court.” Since the adoption of section 411.209 (outlined above), Austin has purported to fit this exemption. As such, visitors to Austin City Hall are greeted by an armed officer, must empty their pockets and submit all belongings to an x-ray, and then pass through a metal detector before entering.

Unfortunately for bureaucrats, citizen complaints led the OAG to investigate the issue. Their investigation determined that Austin City Hall fails to meet the exemption definition.

“Based on the city’s representations, the OAG concludes the city intends to exclude the carrying of weapons from the entire premises of the city hall, purportedly pursuant to section 46.03(a)(3) of the Penal Code.

Upon review, however, the OAG is unable to determine which government court or office utilized by a government court, if any, is located within the city hall building. Regardless, the city hall houses numerous non-judicial city administrative offices that are not identified as places where weapons are prohibited under section 46.03 or 56.035 of the Penal Code. Section 46.03(a)(3) of the Penal Code does not allow a political subdivision to prohibit licensed handgun holders from entering into an entire building simply because government courts or the offices of the courts are located in a portion of that multipurpose building. Consequently, the OAG has determined that the signs at the entrance of the city hall, as well as the oral communications utilized by city hall security officers, are in violation of the Government Code.”

The City of Austin has fifteen days (from yesterday) to remedy the violation before civil penalties are assessed by the State. The court is authorized by the code to assess penalties up to $10,500 per day — if the city does not comply.

The full statement issued by the Office of the Attorney General can be viewed here.