The council discussed Thursday night what effects Canton could feel from the Safe Carry Protection Act, which becomes law July 1 and makes it legal for licensed gun carriers to take their weapons into government buildings not screened for guns.
City Attorney Bobby Dyer told the council a catch in the vast law might give Canton a solid argument for City Hall being immune to the legislation — and the costs associated with adding security to screen for firearms.
The catch is the law doesn’t let guns in courthouses. Dyer said “to a certain extent,” City Hall is a courthouse, because of the municipal courtroom on the first floor.
“Court — whether you’re screening or not — you can’t bring weapons in,” Dyer said.
Councilman Glen Cummins, who is also interim city manager, said the attorney might be right.
City Hall is home to court business every day, with people coming in to pay fines even when court isn’t in session. Based on that, he thought the building could be excluded from allowing guns.
If City Hall could in fact be classified as a courthouse, then the city won’t have to make big changes if it wants to keep guns banned, Dyer said. The only way to find out if that argument works might be to use it in court, if the city is sued, he added.
Dyer said if the council isn’t comfortable with the argument and wants to keep guns out, new security measures will have to be put in place because the law requires security personnel screen for guns at building entrances to bar them. Today, guns are only screened for at the entrance of the courtroom.
“If you want to prohibit it in a City Council meeting, we’d have to do something different than we are now,” the city attorney said. “You’re talking about working out some kind of security plan.”
Dyer told the council the security plan would require a certified police officer to be the one screening for guns at the entrance of the building.
Members of the council expressed no firm opinions on where they stood on letting guns in.
Councilwoman Sandy McGrew seemed to still be considering the idea.
Before the meeting, she made a post on Facebook, asking city residents what they thought about letting guns in City Hall.
“I’ve gotten over 100 emails on my city email asking/begging/demanding that we allow guns in the building,” McGrew wrote, asking for more people to weigh in.
Mayor Gene Hobgood, who requested the discussion, which is expected to continue at the next meeting, already has an opinion.
He told the council he was concerned about the prospect of weapons in the building, particularly in the council chambers, where the council and other boards meet, and controversial topics often come up.
“There’s a lot of anxiety that exists,” he said. “A lot of people don’t show up to a meeting until they’re upset about something. To me, I just wonder, is that a good time for them to be armed?”