Judges attend firearms training

May 12, 2005

Twenty-two state court judges attended a firearms training class Wednesday. Some members of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals as well as circuit, chancery and county court judges attended classroom instruction and practiced target shooting with handguns.

Judges who carry weapons are required to pass an approved firearms class at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy. All 22 qualified with their weapons.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James W. Smith Jr., who shot alongside other justices and judges at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy near Pearl, said, “The main purpose is to help these judges feel more secure individually.”

The recently created Supreme Court Committee on Court Security is taking a look at security issues for the appellate courts and seeking to help trial court judges improve courthouse security across the state.

Chief Justice Smith said, “It’s an ongoing look at our security and the security of our employees.”

Supreme Court Justice Michael K. Randolph, who chairs the security committee, said it’s important to make plans for how to deal with threats or the potential for violence at courthouses.

“Everyone has to know what to do. There must be coordination of all people who would be at risk,” Justice Randolph said during a break in the firearms training.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger said, “People involved in the legal system are even more conscious now of the need for better security. The tragic incident in Atlanta certainly increased the awareness of everyone.”

A trial court judge, his court reporter and a deputy were shot to death in an Atlanta courthouse in March after a man who was on trial took a bailiff’s gun.

Justice Randolph began examining court security issues soon after he joined the Supreme Court in April 2004. Courthouse security and personal safety for judges and staff are being addressed. Self­defense training is planned for staff of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7(2) permits justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals as well as circuit, chancery, county and municipal court judges to carry firearms if they choose. The statute states, “Before any person shall be authorized under this subsection to carry a weapon, he shall complete a weapons training course approved by the Board of Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training.”

Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr., a member of the security committee, said, “To the extent that people want to exercise their right to carry a weapon, it just makes sense for people to be trained how to use it.”

Madison County Court Judge Cynthia Brewer said, “Weapons safety was a major part of this experience.” She said she appreciated the emphasis on safety.

On Wednesday, Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy Range Director Philip Hemphill and Range Officer Bobby Reed discussed handgun safety and demonstrated firing techniques in the classroom, then gave pointers during the target shooting.

Reed said, “In the event you ever have to pull this weapon, you all know you are liable for every shot that comes out of that gun. If you decide you are going to use this weapon, be ever mindful what’s beyond your target....If you are going to consider using this weapon, you need to be proficient with it.”