Riley County District Court Judge Meryl Wilson showed more wisdom than the Kansas Legislature when he said last week, “A courthouse is no place for guns or other weapons.”
The Legislature has decided, however, that no later than 2018, Kansas courthouses will be among places where guns will be allowed — not just guns worn by law enforcement officials but also carried by individuals with permits to carry concealed weapons.
The law takes effect this year, but local governments can seek annual exemptions until 2018 if they can show the state they have adequate security measures. Riley County can’t show it yet, but Riley County commissioners indicated support for such measures at their meeting Thursday.
Judge Wilson’s remark came as he and Community Corrections Director Shelly Williams spoke to the Commission about the need for greater security in the Riley County Courthouse as well as the county office building.
As Judge Wilson pointed out, times have changed. Courtroom violence, while not common, “is no longer a rarity,” he said. Instances of courtroom violence averaged more than five a month nationwide in 2011. The fact that none occurred in Riley County doesn’t make the county immune.
The courthouse, built in 1906, is particularly vulnerable. It has five entrances but just one guard. There is a metal detector, but it’s used only occasionally, such as with high-profile court cases.
That isn’t enough security. Among Judge Wilson’s recommendations were security cameras outside the building and in its hallways and screening procedures for people entering the building. He also suggested “panic buttons” in courtrooms that judges could press in the event of an emergency.
“We see over 300 people a day coming in and out of that building, and the sad truth is, almost none of them want to be there,” he said.” Last year, many of the visitors were there in connection with one or more of the 9,000-plus new cases the county’s judicial system processed.
Ms. Williams’ recommendations included even greater concealed carry training, additional guards and a high-quality security system whose cost she estimated at $30,000 to $35,000.
All those are sound recommendations. And even if commissioners are comfortable with concealed carry, they were wise to agree to initiate the process to exempt the county’s buildings from the law and commit to bolstering security for county employees as well as for citizens who have business to conduct in county buildings.