County seeks gun-free courthouse
May 30, 2012
Teton County Courthouse last to allow firearms
Though the Gem State is generally gun friendly, Teton County has one of the last courthouses in eastern Idaho that allows those with the proper permit to walk in its doors with a weapon. And while there has never been a shoot out or a pistol pulled in the courthouse, Teton County Prosecutor Kathy Spitzer has petitioned Administrative Judge Jon Shindurling to designate the courthouse as a gun-free building and join all its neighboring counties.
Spitzer said Idaho law does not give county commissioners the authority to rule on the matter, though code does allow these elected officials to carry a weapon into the courthouse without a permit. This is a part of Idaho’s western heritage, but not something that commissioners consider an option.
“I don’t carry guns unless it’s hunting season,” said Commissioner Kelly Park. “I’ve never felt unsafe in the courthouse, but I think designating it gun-free is a great idea. There is concern. With the economy the way it is, you never know what could set a person off.”
During an administrative meeting Tuesday with Judge Shindurling, Spitzerasked again for an order to be signed that would designate Teton County’s courtroom and possibly its courthouse as a gun-free zone. The surrounding counties of Bonneville, Fremont and Madison all have gun-free designations posted, and some courtrooms have metal detectors. In Teton County, Wyo., you must pass through an x-ray machine and then a metal detector in order to gain entrance into the gun-free courthouse.
Though anyone could have petitioned District Seven Court for the gun-free designation, Spitzer has asked Shindurling for this before.
“The whole purpose of the order is to protect judges,” Spitzer said. “I’ve asked Judge Shindurling for this before, and I think his only hesitation is designating the entire courthouse. He really only has purview over the courtroom.”
The Teton County courtroom, like many other small counties, is accessed through the halls of the courthouse, so a designation for the entire building seems appropriate to Spitzer and others who work within the criminal justice system.
Though attorneys argue cases and judges or jurors hand down decisions, it is often the court clerk’s office that feels the brunt of disgruntled citizens as they navigate the judicial system. And it’s not always with high profile criminal cases. With civil cases on the rise over the last year, domestic violence and domestic relations are a large part of what the court is dealing with these days. In many instances, the court clerk, located outside the courtroom, has to deal with people who are very emotional.
“I felt unsafe in the old courthouse,” said veteran court clerk Phyllis Hansen. “We are now located in a secure area where court employees, judges and jurors are safe, but I am very much in favor of a gun-free designation for the entire courthouse. Domestics and divorces are up, and that generates a lot of drama.”
Though neither Hansen nor her staff has felt threatened, she attributes her peace of mind to the presence of Court Bailiff Lindsey Moss, the man who works with Teton County Sheriff’s Deputies to administer security in the courtroom. Moss, Hansen said, works to diffuse situations before they ever occur, and he is also in favor of the gun-free designation.
“I try to be aware of pending cases and meet with parties beforehand,” Moss said. “Following hearings, I try to position myself between litigants. I’m a firm believer in keeping people separated to avoid conflict.”
Moss has not had any problems in the new or old courthouse with armed citizens, but he said he does not have the authority to disarm someone even if he felt the need.
“There is currently no law that prohibits people with the proper permit to carry a weapon in the courthouse,” Moss said. “It’s a concern. People need to feel safe in the courthouse where emotions run high. Sometimes there is a lot at stake. I’m not anti-gun, but I would like to see there be no weapons in the courtroom.”
By Wednesday morning, Spitzer had not heard back from Judge Shindurling with regard to the administrative order she sought to designate the Teton County courthouse a gun-free building.