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Austin unlawfully blocked gun holder from City Hall, judge rules

Front of the Austin City Hall, Frost Bank in the background; Austin, Texas (M.Fitzsimmons/Flickr/Released)

A Travis County judge has ruled that the city of Austin violated state open carry gun laws when it blocked a licensed firearms holder from entering City Hall on multiple days in 2016.

State District Judge Lora Livingston fined the city $9,000. Her ruling came Thursday, a week after the judge presided over a two-day trial centered on a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

The suit stated security guards at City Hall blocked local gun store owner Michael Cargill, who has a concealed gun permit, from entering the building on multiple occasions. The building had a sign etched in glass prohibiting the presence of guns even though, the suit argued, City Hall was not exempt under the state law.

Cargill told the American-Statesman on Thursday that he complained to the city in July 2016 after he was denied entry to the building. When he returned days later and was again told to leave, he alerted Paxton’s office.

After the judge’s ruling, Cargill went to City Hall on Thursday with his Sig Sauer 1911 pistol, showed guards his license to carry a handgun and entered without incident.

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“This means that every city and county, municipality and property, needs to follow the law,” Cargill said. “This means we absolutely were correct since we won in Travis County — a blue dot in a sea of red.”

In a statement, Paxton said, “The district court’s ruling preserves and protects the Second Amendment rights of Texans and sends a strong message to the city of Austin that they are bound by the same laws as all other Texans.

“The city of Austin cannot violate the open carry law or any other law the Texas Legislature has enacted simply because they disagree with it,” Paxton said. “If the city of Austin appeals the district court’s decision, my office will continue to strongly defend the right of law-abiding Texans to keep and bear arms in accordance with our handgun laws.”

City officials released a statement saying they will continue to ban guns at City Hall during certain events.

“We are disappointed because City Hall is a multifunctional building that is at times a court facility, a polling place, a location for educational activities and the location of City Council meetings, all of which meet the state legislature’s conditions for restricting the carrying of handguns,” the statement says. “Consistent with the Court’s order, we will continue to ban handguns from City Hall during those times when the legislature’s limitations allow, and we will be amending our communications to clarify when our handgun ban will be in effect.”

The attorney general’s office had asked Livingston to make Austin comply with the law, which states only certain government buildings, such as courthouses and those that have school functions, are gun-free. The judge denied that request, saying there’s no reason to believe Austin will not abide by the law going forward.

Livingston did fine the city $1,500 for each of the six days that Paxton’s office said guards denied Cargill and attorney general investigators entrance to City Hall.

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© 2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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