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CONWAY -- Faulkner County employees would be allowed to carry concealed weapons to work, with some exceptions, if the Quorum Court approves a measure now under consideration.

Proposed Ordinance No. 15-29 had the first of three readings last week.

Randy Higgins, chairman of the Quorum Court's Courts and Public Safety Committee, said that panel will be discussing the plan and may have one or more amendments to it. There was little other discussion, and Higgins did not return a phone message seeking further comment.

Scott Perkins, spokesman for the Association of Arkansas Counties, said last week that he did not know of any counties that have approved such a measure, made possible by Act 1259, which was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly earlier this year. Other counties may have such proposals in the works, though Perkins said he didn't know of any.

The statute, which took effect in late July, allows countywide elected officials and county employees with concealed-weapon permits to carry concealed handguns in county buildings, with the approval of their Quorum Courts.

Such buildings may include "the courthouse, the courthouse annex or other building owned, leased, or regularly used by the county for conducting court proceedings or housing a county office," says the act, sponsored in part by state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas.

Such ordinances should be part of a plan "set out by the local security and emergency preparedness plan," the statute adds.

The Faulkner County proposal, as now written, still would not allow employees or elected officials to carry weapons into a detention facility, the sheriff's office or "in the courtroom of a circuit judge without that judge's authorization."

County attorney David Hogue said Friday that he planned to delete the word "circuit" from the proposal so that the exemption also would apply to district judges, who now preside over the first court appearances by defendants in felony cases, as well as many misdemeanor cases.

District Judge Susan Weaver said that was "the biggest issue" she had with the original proposal and was glad it was being changed.

There could be other amendments, too, Hogue said.

One question relates to how security would be enforced outside courtrooms in the new Faulkner County Justice Building on South German Lane. Security officers and a metal detector are stationed at the first-floor entrance to the four-story building. The building's six courtrooms are spread out among the upper floors with no additional detectors outside them.

Asked if he thought the Quorum Court would buy and install more metal detectors to put outside each courtroom and to assign additional officers to monitor them, Hogue said, "I think that's very unlikely."

Hogue said the Quorum Court's committee needs to get input from the county's new sheriff, Matt Rice. Hogue also hopes to talk with Pete Hollingsworth, director of security and emergency preparedness for Arkansas' Administrative Office of the Courts.

By the time the proposed ordinance is finalized, Hogue said, "It may be that nobody carries them in the Justice Building; it may be that somebody works something out."

Rice did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Hogue stressed that the proposal doesn't apply to anyone with concealed-weapon permits. Rather, he said, it only applies to county employees and countywide elected officials.

Asked if countywide elected officials would include justices of the peace since they're elected from districts within the county, Hogue said he believed they would be included since they serve the entire county.

Hogue said one purpose of the proposal is "to boost courthouse security and to give the people that work at the courthouse a little bit of self-protection."

"Once in a while there are situations where a ... clerical worker will be sitting at a desk doing their job and someone will come in ... and they feel threatened," especially in light of so many mass shootings in public places and churches. This way, he said, "they could protect themselves."

The offices for the 20th Judicial Circuit's prosecuting attorney also are on an upper floor in the Justice Building.

Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said Friday that state law already allows prosecutors to carry weapons, so the proposed ordinance "wouldn't have any impact on our ability to carry [them] in the office."

"As for the ordinance, my understanding is it will be amended so I'll reserve any judgment until a final draft is completed for review," Hiland wrote in a text message.

No one on the Quorum Court voiced any objections during the meeting last week, and no one from the audience spoke.

In an email, though, Justice of the Peace Ernest Hendricks wrote, "My own reaction is 'all we need is for there to be more people with guns in county sites.'"

State Desk on 09/21/2015

Print Headline: County considers weapons at work

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