Recent events in Ohio have put a question to the forefront of whether Judges should carry concealed weapons whilst on the job. It has been reported nationally that a Judge in Jefferson County Ohio, (Steubenville) was wounded by a disgruntled party involved in civil litigation. The Judge returned fire and the shooter was killed on site by a probation officer. There have also been several reports of threats made against judges in Northeast Ohio.
Judges are not “law enforcement agents” under Ohio law and do not have arrest authority in the same way that a sworn police officers do. They do have the power to hold people in contempt of court and issue bench warrants for the arrest of individuals that do not appear for court when summoned. Another thing that they have is the right to defend themselves from a violent attack. A right shared by all citizens in this country. Generally speaking, we the people have a right to self defense under natural law and the state constitution. However, deadly force can only be used to repel an attack when deadly force is used against you. I go into this in much greater detail in my Self Defense Law Course.
How does one defend oneself from a violent armed attack? Sometimes armed force is necessary. This can come in the form of dedicated armed security, a police officer or law enforcement agent that happens to be present, or from the targeted victim themselves. In the Steubenville case, the Judge defended himself.
Under Ohio law, judges, prosecuting attorneys, and law enforcement officers are exempt from the concealed carry prohibition in Courthouses. Unless there is a rule of superintendence against weapons in the Courthouse, Judges may carry a handgun in court.
The law already exists to permit Judges to carry and they are required to obtain a concealed carry permit like any civilian in Ohio, but once they do they can carry in court (unlike civilians). It is up to the individual Judge to decide whether she or he will go armed.
The question of whether they should or not is answered by the events in Steubenville. If the judge was not armed, his assailant may have been successful in ending his life.
Judges live in the same dangerous society in which we all live. The recent events in Steubenville just point out that even those folks tasked with dispensing justice and ensuring order are subject to the same dangers that the rest of us face everyday.
Should Judges go Heeled? Yes.
Will Judges carry concealed? That is a choice that each judge must make for himself or herself.
Michael B. Washington is an Ohio Attorney, former prosecuting attorney and an NRA certified instructor.
Author’s note: the term “Heeled” is an old time euphemism for carrying a weapon in public.