A Texas appeals court has ruled in favor of a gun-rights activist who had complained that county officials were illegally barring firearms from a public building.
The Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas found in favor of Terry Holcomb Sr. by ruling, in part, that Waller County had no standing to sue Holcomb in 2016 because a complaint he lodged should have been heard by the state attorney general's office.
Thursday's opinion reversed a lower-court ruling, with justices also determining that lower court didn't have jurisdiction in the matter.
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The Legislature in 2015 adopted a law forbidding state agencies and other public entities from posting notices barring entry to armed concealed handgun license holders. The attorney general's office is charged with investigating any claims that the law is being violated. Attorney General Ken Paxton wasn't named as a party in the county's lawsuit, and the appeals court determined that Holcomb's complaint would have to be heard by Paxton's office before any court action.
Holcomb is executive director of a gun-rights group called Texas Carry. He's sent dozens of letters to local governments and others across the state complaining of restrictions placed on license holders.
In the case of courthouses like the one in Waller County, Texas law prohibits guns from being brought into courtrooms and related offices, but Paxton has issued opinions saying firearms can't be uniformly prohibited from an entire courthouse complex that may also include tax, planning and other offices.
Holcomb's lawyer, Edwin Walker, on Friday criticized the county's decision to sue Holcomb.
"This is the first time I'm aware of a government turning around and suing a citizen for doing something a citizen does, and that is basically complain about the actions of the government," Walker said.
A Texas law offers protections for people who file grievances over government action.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis has said that Holcomb misunderstood the county's intentions. Mathis previously said he was simply seeking a ruling that the county had the legal right to ban guns from the entire courthouse building.
He wasn't available for comment Friday. County Judge Trey Duhon, the county's top administrator, deferred questions to Mathis' office.
The county has the option of appealing to the full appeals court or to the Texas Supreme Court, but it was unclear Friday how the county might proceed.
Paxton, meanwhile, has a pending lawsuit against Waller County over its interpretation of state licensed carry laws.
"This is a great day for the First Amendment and the right of citizens to participate in government," Paxton said in a statement Friday.