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Commissioners Court adjusts its aim on gun policy

Monday, January 11, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Commissioners Court will resume a debate over guns at its regular Tuesday voting session, but it won’t exactly be picking up where it left off late last year.

In the three weeks since County Judge Sarah Eckhardt postponed a vote on updating the county code to align it with a new state law, the goalposts have moved somewhat. Instead of voting on whether to ban all county employees – other than peace officers, corrections officers and security officers – from bringing deadly weapons to work, the commissioners will instead consider narrowing the restrictions to employees of the departments that report to the court.

The change doesn’t necessarily represent a change of heart on Eckhardt’s behalf toward employees who report to other elected officials, such as tax assessor-collector Bruce Elfant or County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. “Because the court does not have the authority to discipline the employees of elected officials, there is no way for the court to enforce this policy in relation to those employees,” wrote county employee relations specialist Tony Robertson in a memorandum attached to the item in Tuesday’s agenda.

The court will still consider striking the entirety of Chapter 66 from the county code. That chapter “compiles and restates” sections of the Texas Penal Code that once prohibited firearms on government-owned property but have since been reversed by a new state law. Section 10.008 of county code, Chapter 10, extended the ban to county employees and will also be deleted, though language in that same section that forbids smoking in county buildings and vehicles will be retained.

The vote to erase those outdated sections from the code won’t draw much controversy, but a decision about whether to add in new language that would preclude Commissioners Court employees from bringing deadly weapons to work will likely draw an animated discussion. If the court elects to write that ban into the code, it will include an option for other county elected officials to adopt the same policy.

In December, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty insisted that allowing county workers the right to arm themselves is a sensible safety measure during a time when mass shootings seem to occur with a shocking frequency. Eckhardt, who warned of basing policy on fear and insecurity, ultimately relented to his and Commissioner Ron Davis’ insistence that employees be allowed to weigh in on the decision. But she left no question about her own opinion.

“I do not want to be in a state of war,” she said at December’s meeting. “I do not want to feel that I, myself, must defend myself by carrying a firearm on me at all times. And I know that others do desire to carry a firearm on themselves at all times. I do not want to live in a world where I’m required to.”

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