Debate on gun rights and courthouse facilities pits judge against sheriff

Sheriff gun debate

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A debate whether guns are allowed in certain government buildings has pitted a local judge against a local sheriff.

Before we get to the judge and sheriff, we have to start with Florida state Sen. Greg Steube.

“A private security guard said I can't bring weapons in the clerk’s office,” he said.

This all unfolded when Steube tried to enter the Sarasota Clerk of Court building last month. He forgot to leave his pocket knife in the car.

“I have a concealed carry permit. I'm licensed to carry, this is the clerk’s office, not the courthouse and he said ‘well you're not allowed to carry it in a government building.’ I said well that's not what Florida statute 790.06 states.”

Steube would be the one to know laws on guns. He’s notable for filing pro-gun bills. He’s filed 11 this year alone, including ones that would allow you to carry weapons in airports, government meetings, colleges and ironically, courthouses.

But, in this case, he challenged current law and attorneys for Sheriff Tom Knight agreed with his stance.

So, the sheriff removed deputies from the front entrance of the clerk of court office and criminal justice center.  

“If it's the law, he's more than right in bringing a weapon in, but I think that maybe we should look at changing the law,” said Chester Mann who had jury duty today.

That move didn’t sit well with Chief Judge Carl Williams of the 12th Judicial Circuit. He sent an administrative order telling the sheriff’s office to return the deputies to the screening stations.

“We believe it's judicial over reach and it intrudes on the the functions of the executive branch,” said Sarasota County Sheriff’s Col. Kurt Hoffman, also an attorney for the office.

The judge ordered that sheriff Knight comply with the order by 5 p.m. Monday or he could face contempt charges, be arrested and taken to the very same jail he runs across the street.

But, the sheriff’s office is seeking an appeal to a higher court giving them more time.

Williams says he will allow the 2nd District Court of appeal to resolve the issue.

With shifting the deputies around, the sheriff’s office is able to save money by removing several private security guards, saving almost $58,000 of taxpayer money.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman says that is an unintended and coincidental byproduct of the security change, not a move to save money. 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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