Sheriff reveals plan for courthouse concealed carry

JAMES BEATY | Staff photo

Pittsburg county Sheriff Chris Morris listens as Pittsburg County commissioners react to his training plan for courthouse employees who want to carry concealed weapons.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris has told county commissioners how he intends to train employees wanting to carry concealed weapons at the county courthouse.

Commissioners say they will pass the sheriff’s plan to attorneys representing the county through the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

Commission Chairman/District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith also said commissioners are pursuing plans to hire a second deputy to work security at the courthouse.

“Your guy does a great job,” Smith said, referring to the deputy assigned to the courthouse. “But he’s so tied up when court action is underway that sometimes the rest of the courthouse is left unattended.”

Smith stated the commissioners’ intentions, but the budget which would include money to hire a second courthouse deputy is awaiting final approval.

Morris presented his plans to commissioners during their meeting at the Pittsburg County Courthouse.

The sheriff said he’s been contacted by numerous courthouse employees requesting that he write them a letter allowing them to carry their concealed weapons while working inside the courthouse.

Morris cited the state statute that says a county sheriff can authorize courthouse employees to carry a handgun while at work if they have a concealed carry permit. The statute also says the sheriff may require additional training before the employee can carry a handgun inside the courthouse.

The sheriff said he’s selected a board consisting of five state-certified Council for Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) instructors who will instruct classes for employees wishing to carry a gun inside the courthouse.

Instructors will score and rate each student/employee and submit the scores to the sheriff.

“If the employee passes the course successfully without any safety issues and shows proficiency with their weapon, they will be approved by the sheriff to carry their handgun while at work in the courthouse,” Morris said.

Training

Morris said he would implement the following steps:

• 1 — Employee must obtain an Oklahoma Self Defense Act license.

• 2 — Employee will complete firearms training covering topics such as threat assessment, “shoot or don’t shoot,” as well as marksmanship training from a CLEET firearms instructor.

• 3 — Employee will complete additional weapon retention training from a CLEET defensive tactics instructor.

• 4 — Employee will complete additional legal training covering the legality of deploying deadly force.

• 5 — Employee will complete the CLEET non-uniformed officer’s course of fire with a passing score on an annual basis to maintain status to carry. All rounds shot during the qualification course must be accounted for by being in the target/silhouette.

• 6 — Employees participating in concealed carry will be required to maintain certain equipment such as a retention-style holster worn on their person or secured in a bag or purse and placed in a secure location such as a desk drawer.

“This is above and beyond what a citizen of the state of Oklahoma is required to complete and shows a good-faith effort to provide Pittsburg County Courthouse employees with the means to protect themselves in a mass shooting or life-threatening situation,” Morris said.

Afterwards, Morris spoke with the News-Capital regarding his planned training program.

Asked where the firearms training would take place, Morris said it would be on the McAlester Police Department’s Fox-Sheehan Range, so courthouse employees will not have to travel out-of-town to receive the training.

What’s next

“I just put it on the commissioners,” Morris said. He noted the commissioners plan to be in contact with the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

He also responded to the commissioners’ concerns regarding potential liability that could result from a courthouse employee firing a weapon inside the courthouse.

“I think it might be more of a risk in taking away their right to carry their weapon and defend themselves,” Morris said.

While state law allows the sheriff to authorize courthouse employees to carry concealed weapons, county commissioners have said their current policy prohibits it.

“We don’t want to get anybody in trouble,” Morris said. “Policy doesn’t override state law.”

While the commissioners have said most of the people they’ve heard from are against allowing courthouse employees to carry concealed weapons, the sheriff said he’s hearing from those supporting it.

“We’ve not had one person not in favor of this,” he said. “These employees want to protect themselves.”

The News-Capital also spoke with the county commissioners regarding the situation.

District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman agreed with Smith’s proposal to send the information about the sheriff’s planned training program to the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

“Send it to ACCO; let the lawyers check it out,” Selman said. He said he intended to speak to a safety officer at ACCO regarding the matter, but was unable to do so.

“I was there last week, but the safety guy was gone,” Selman said. He also addressed the issue of liability.

“There’s always liability,” Selman said. “We want to make sure we protect our own people, and the public and the county.”

Selman also supports the idea of hiring a second deputy at the courthouse.

“I’ve been holding that ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “There are multiple floors and doors and court cases. I’m glad to see we’ve got a little bit of money and we can do it.”

District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers also supports bringing on another courthouse deputy.

“I think that would be excellent,” he said. Rogers said he’s seen statistics that show there’s more of a chance of an accidental shooting if everybody has a gun.

Smith reiterated his request to let lawyers representing ACCO review the sheriff’s plan.

“Let them look at the legal side of it,” said Smith.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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