S.921 Judges Disarming Law Enforcement Officers

On Wednesday, January 27, 2010 a piece of legislation had a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security that brought to light a very disturbing practice in our courts.

Senator Stephen Brewer has filed S.921 “An Act Relative to the Safety of Law Enforcement Officers.” 

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 1 of Chapter 275 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2006 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof, the following words:

“provided further that any law enforcement officer, in the course of official business, shall be permitted to carry such weapons as are authorized by his appointing authority while in any state or county courthouse".

As used in this section, ‘law enforcement officer’ shall mean any state, county, or municipal police officer or special state police officer authorized to make arrests or serve criminal process. 

The complaints from certain officers started back in 2007 when an Environmental Police Officer tried to enter the Worcester Central District Court. Upon entering the building the officer was told by court officers that he was not allowed to enter the courtroom unless he surrendered his firearm to them.

According to some news articles on the issue, this is a fairly new practice in the courts of Worcester County, Hampshire County and the courthouses in Marlboro, Framingham, Natick and Palmer. Within these courts only State and Municipal Police Officers are allowed to carry their firearm in the courtroom. This policy leaves out Environmental Police, Campus Police, and any other entity that has police authorities.

In a recent State House News article a Trial Court spokeswoman Joan Kenney defended the policy. “The Trial Court security policy seeks to maintain a safe environment for everyone in the courthouses by minimizing the number of guns allowed inside court facilities,” she said. “Court Officers on duty employed by the Trial Court are not authorized to carry guns in courthouses. The State Police and local police within a particular court’s jurisdiction are allowed to possess guns inside courthouses when they are on official business because they are trained to respond to court emergencies and occasionally assist court officers in difficult situations. Keeping the courthouses as gun-free as possible is the goal of the Trial Court Security Department in an effort to keep employees and the public safe.”

For several years now, law enforcement agencies have been trying to work out this policy within the court system, but have been continually stonewalled. It is because of this lack of positive action that Senator Brewer has filed S.921 to correct the misguided policy. 

At the public hearing in January many law enforcement officials testified that an officer with an empty holster is a target especially since they are most likely to meet the very people they have arrested in court. Other concerns that were addressed were that the court officers taking the firearms may not even be licensed to possess them since court officers are not allowed to carry firearms at all while on duty. There was also a great concern that the officers were being disarmed and the firearms stored in a public area so that all of the suspects and their friends could see where the guns were being stored.

For over a decade now lawful gun owners in this state have been fighting against laws, regulations and policies that have divided us into classes based on what we own for firearms or are not allowed to own. Now certain court officials are beginning the process of dividing law enforcement officials in a similar manner. GOAL certainly supports the effort of Senator Brewer to correct this issue, but it is unfortunate we have to welcome yet another sector of society into the fight to be treated equally and with respect. GOAL urges our members to contact their legislators and ask them to support S.921.

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