To the editor:
I am writing to clarify my position concerning concealed weapons as reported in Wednesday's edition of The Journal. I can imagine the challenge in trying to accurately report in a few sentences what happens during a three to five hour meeting.. Unfortunately, quoting a few words can often leave an impression that is not accurate.
At Tuesday's County Board meeting, our State Senator and Representative met with the Board. Each county department head was asked to mention areas of concern so that our legislators are aware of them.
I mentioned two subjects, but The Journal only reported about my statement on the prohibition that county attorneys face when faced with a threat to their safety. This is a current subject because of the attack on the Cook County Attorney last month. This occurred in his own office, which is in the Cook County Courthouse. That attorney is prohibited by state law from being armed "while on duty." This is an absolute prohibition with no exceptions for issues of personal safety or any other legitimate reason that a prosecutor would have to possess a firearm while on duty. This prohibition even exists if the person has been fully trained, has a gun permit issued by the County Sheriff, and has the consent and agreement of all others in charge of courthouse safety.
What is inappropriate about this law in our county (and many others) is that it only prohibits the County Attorney and his assistants. In other words, any City Attorney from Brown County is not under this same prohibition. Neither are the attorneys who act as public defenders or attorneys from the Attorney General's office. This is the issue I was addressing.
So let me state my position. I personally do not plan to carry any weapons. On the other hand, if I would perceive a safety threat to me, my staff, or my family because some individual has let it be known that he intends to act upon his ill-will to my department, I would want the ability and authority to carry, until such a threat passed. The Cook County Attorney did not have this right when someone walked into his courthouse and into his office and shot him three times.
I support the idea that weapons should be excluded from courthouses and courts. I am comfortable with the idea that only our trained deputies and police officers should be armed in our courthouses.
If the law I discussed with the legislators was changed, no one in my office would then be allowed to carry a weapon. That would only be allowed if that person went through the training and class instruction that must precede any permit to carry. This would also involve obtaining a permit from the County Sheriff, just like anybody else. It would also involve obtaining special permission because of an existing Administrative Order existing in this judicial district.
Let me state again that I am not advocating that me or anyone on my staff be armed. I am advocating that the specific law that would have allowed the Cook County Attorney to defend himself be changed. Whether he chose to go through the training and process to do that would have been up to him.
As a County Attorney from a neighboring county told me, "I was at a County Board meeting this morning. Those meetings are not held in the courthouse. A reporter from the local newspaper attends those meetings. He is not prohibited from carrying a weapon at the meeting, so why should I be?"
Let's do our best to keep all weapons out of our courts and our courthouses. On the other hand, let's not tie the hands of those who protect us when they are threatened.
Robert D. Hinnenthal
Brown County Attorney