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Commissioners Court holds fire on gun policy update

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Commissioners Court will get off to a quick start in 2016. On Tuesday, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt reset until Jan. 12 an item that contained a controversial revision to the county’s firearms policy.

The proposal would bring the county code up to date with a recent change in state law that expands the areas in which concealed handgun license holders can carry their weapons.

The item, sponsored by Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who was off the dais on Tuesday, aimed to drop language in the code that conflicted with state law but also reaffirm that most county employees – those who aren’t peace officers, corrections officers or commissioned security officers – cannot bring deadly weapons onto county property or into county vehicles.

“I just wanted to be sure that our county employees and the general public were aware of the double standard that has now been created” by the new state law, Eckhardt said before asking for a motion on the item.

After an awkward pause with no motion offered, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty spoke up. “Can we discuss this?” he asked.

Given the floor by Eckhardt, Daugherty continued: “I think this is common sense stuff. With what’s going on in the world and especially with workplace violence. … You know, we live in a tough time, and I think that employees ought to be able to carry a handgun if they want to and they have a concealed handgun license.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea disagreed and argued for more restrictions on guns, calling the current situation created by the state Legislature “ridiculous.”

Staking out the middle ground was Commissioner Ron Davis, who expressed frustration over gun-related massacres across the country but also trepidation about disarming county workers in buildings in which the general public is potentially packing heat.

“I haven’t heard from any employees about how they feel about this,” Davis said, making the case to delay a vote on the item. “Not one Travis County employee has called my office on this item and said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. What about us?’ And I think we need to see what they think about it.”

After clearing up with staff that there would be no legal problem with delaying the vote, Eckhardt agreed that “we are in a very strange place in our world right now” but argued that county policy should set the guiding social standard.

“I want us to go toward peace, not toward ‘Protect yourself,’” Eckhardt said. “That is the vigilante world, and I think that we should do everything in our power as government officials to avoid a vigilante world.”

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