Bill Allowing Judges To Carry Guns Passes State Senate

Monday, February 26th 2007, 5:43 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) District Judge Greg Zigler of the Oklahoma Panhandle, known as "No Man's Land" in the late 1800s, is among those supporting a bill to allow judges to carry guns into the courtroom.

But Zigler said he does not want to be portrayed as having a shoot-em-up mentality like Judge Roy Bean of the Old West in nearby Texas.

While he supports Sen. Brian Crain's bill to let local judges to tote guns, he says it should require jurists to get law enforcement training.

"If you've got a judge and a deputy on opposite ends of the courtroom and something goes down, you could literally have people shooting at each other," Zigler said. "Would you want to be in the well of the courtroom when that happened?

"Unless you've got people who are adequately trained, it could be a difficult situation."

Crain's bill, approved on a 39-9 vote in the Senate on Monday, does not require law enforcement training for judges, but they would be required to get a concealed weapons permit.

It now goes to the House for consideration.

Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward, said the legislation is long overdue.

Laughlin said judges in the sparsely populated Panhandle do not have security like they do in metropolitan areas such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

"We've got a real problem because we have a violent society," Laughlin said. "Judges are out there, at least in my district, are scared to death of the people who come into their courtroom."

He quoted Zigler as saying it was a matter of time before there was a violent episode.

There is no security in Zigler's courtroom in Guymon, with both the police department and the sheriff's office located more than a mile away.

Crain, R-Tulsa, said his bill on judges carrying guns was sparked by a courtroom incident in Tulsa when a judge went to get a gun during an apparent disturbance in the courtroom.

No violence erupted in that case, but Crain said a few years ago a defendant overpowered a deputy in Georgia and killed three people, including a judge.

Sen. Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo, expressed concern about Crain's bill leading to others being able to carry guns, such as prosecutors and defense attorneys. He said he did not want a situation "where we have the OK Corral going on."

Sen. Charles Laster, D-Shawnee, said the law could conflict with the Oklahoma Supreme Court's authority to supervise district courts, while Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, said the Legislature should step up and provide funding for adequate courtroom security.

Zigler said a law that took effect last July 1 requires a $10 fee to be assessed so that sheriffs' departments can provide courthouse security.

"If we all lived in Mayberry RFD and it was 1968, this kind of legislation would not be on the radar screen anywhere," said.

So far, however, the new law has not raised enough money to pay for a full-time deputy in Zigler's courtroom or at other courtrooms in rural areas.

Ray McNair of the Oklahoma Sheriff's Association said the 2006 law does not define "courthouse security" and rural counties do not have a big enough caseload to pay for a full-time deputy.

Courthouse security, he said, "could be as little as a panic button at the judge's desk hooked up to the sheriff's office."