South Dakota Judge Attempts to Ban Personal Carry of Firearms in Court

A South Dakota 7th Circuit judge, Judge Pfeifle, demands guns be banned from the Courthouse even when he is not there and the court is not in session. iStock-1055138108

U.S.A.-( A South Dakota 7th Circuit judge, Craig Pfeifle, has initiated a conflict with the Custer County Board. The Board created an ordinance to allow people to legally carry personal firearms in the County Courthouse, as allowed by law.  In effect, the ordinance removes the legal prohibition on people carrying firearms in the courthouse. There have not been any problems.

The ordinance covers the courthouse, not the courtroom. Hearings in the courtroom only occur once a week. When they do, a deputy and metal detector are used to secure the courtroom. The Custer County Courthouse includes a museum type art display open to the public.

The Judge did not like the idea, so he proposes to refuse to serve at the Custer County Courthouse as long as the County Board allows people to carry in the Courthouse.  Judge Pfeifle has submitted his order to be reviewed by the Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court in January of 2021.

The trials across the 7th District are already on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. From

The presiding judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit has written a proposed order saying judges won’t appear in Custer County court and trials will take place in Rapid City after the Custer County Commission passed an ordinance allowing guns inside the courthouse. 

“Due to the action by the Custer County Commission in adopting ordinance 2020-18, which allows for firearms to be carried in the courthouse, the Custer County Courthouse is currently unsuitable and insufficient due to safety concerns,” Judge Craig Pfeifle wrote in his proposed order.

The commission adopted the ordinance after meeting with Pfeifle and Judge Matt Brown who expressed their opposition and warnings from the Custer County state’s attorney that allowing guns in the courthouse is a safety risk, legal liability and financial burden.

When I arrived in Yuma, Arizona, 30 years ago, there were no restrictions on carrying in the Yuma County Courthouse.  There may have been restrictions on carrying in courtrooms at times, but I did not see them.

I often legally carried in the courthouse as I had business to conduct there. The courthouse contained the clerk of courts, the tax assessor, and the county recorder. As with many courthouses, actual trials and hearings in courtrooms are a small amount of the business done inside.

After the double murder of law officers by rogue Yuma County Deputy Jack Hudson in 1995, a local Yuma judge used the trial to change all of that. He ordered that no one would be allowed in the Courthouse without being disarmed for the Hudson trial. The gun ban was never removed. When the new courthouse was built, it was designed to have electronic screening to ensure only those favored by the Judge would be allowed to be armed.  The prohibition for an entire courthouse is stretching Arizona law.

Several states do not have restrictions or have passed reform legislation to remove restrictions on the carry of guns in courthouses (as opposed to courtrooms), most of which were imposed during the Progressive era. The states include Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

The conflict over allowing guns in courthouses (not courtrooms) is both a philosophical and a political conflict based on the separation of powers built into the structure of the United States.

Judge Pfeifle’s argument is the same as those who want a disarmed population: Guns are bad in the hands of ordinary people. It is summed up in Judge Pfeifle’s statement from a previous article:

“I don’t think you should expand any access to weapons in the courthouse,” Judge Pfeifle said. “I think when you bring them in with employees and others you will create bigger risks than it will solve.”

Second Amendment supporters argue the opposite: Guns are good in the hands of ordinary people. The argument is strictly about ordinary people, because police officers and judges are already able to carry guns in courthouses. People who have been shown to be dangerous to the public (violent felons) will continue to be banned.

Long experience shows the judge is wrong. The courthouse in Custer county has only had a sign or an ordinance preventing people from carrying there for the last several decades, and they have not had any significant problems. That is the case for the vast majority of courthouses in the United States.

The separation of powers conflict occurs because the judge is trying to social engineer outside his jurisdiction.

He is threatening to go on strike. He will not do his job until the management conforms to his demands.

There are two proper responses to this extortion.

  1. Fire the judge through the next election process, for not doing his job.
  2. Impeach the judge in the legislature for not doing his job.

Both of those responses assume the judge actually follows through on his threat. It may not happen.

Judges that demand dictatorial control over entire courthouses instead of in the courtroom, even when the court is not in session, and they are not present, have overstepped their authority.  They have shown a personal predilection against the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It would be wise to remove them from their position of authority.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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