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Denton considers prohibiting guns in public meetings, regardless of licensure


For a year now, Denton city staff have been monitoring safety protocols for council meetings “considering increases in mass shooting events across the nation,” they wrote in a June 16 report to council members.

Those mass shooting events had been in the triple digits for several years. In 2022, the U.S. had, for example, 647 mass shooting events, slightly fewer than the 692 that occurred in 2021, but a few more than the 611 that erupted in 2020, as reported by the Gun Violence Archive.

So far this year, the archive has recorded 319 mass shootings, as well as over 20,000 gun deaths, with a majority of those — 11,352 — being suicides.

Now, Denton City Council will be voting on a resolution at next Tuesday’s council meeting that would prohibit people from carrying guns — whether concealed or openly — to council, board or commission meetings that are open to the public and subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act. The city’s report said guns would not be allowed “even if that person is licensed by the state of Texas.”

This resolution would not apply to the two Denton police officers who will now be attending each meeting and using a handheld and/or walk-through metal detector to deter prohibited items like a handgun.

Currently, handguns aren’t allowed in the Council Chamber or work session room during meetings, Chief of Staff Ryan Adams said in a June 20 email to the Denton Record-Chronicle. Signage, he said, is also posted in front of each room.

But Adams said these increased safety measures will not apply to the Courthouse on the Square lawn since state law allows legally carried firearms there, except for in limited circumstances, such as a school-sponsored event.

“These measures are not in response to a specific threat, but a desire to maintain a safe environment for all involved,” Adams wrote. “The City wants to ensure that the Council, staff, and most importantly, the public are confident that they can attend and participate in meetings knowing their safety is our chief concern.”

Instead, they were in response to a discussion that occurred during the active shooter training that City Manager Sara Hensley had scheduled for council members and staff in June 2022.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Beck told the Record-Chronicle then that it was a proactive approach to discuss “specific Denton responses to the ongoing surge in gun violence particularly sweeping those states like ours with the minimums in regulation.”

It also offered them an opportunity to inform them about security protocols that would help keep people safe, Mayor Gerard Hudspeth said in a prepared statement to the Record-Chronicle in June 2022.

“Our meetings are a place where we want the Council and community to feel safe, welcome, and comfortable,” Hudspeth said.

Since 2008, municipalities across the nation have been enacting stricter security protocols for council chambers and city halls to make council members and the community feel safe. They were responding, in part, to a mass shooting that occurred at a city council meeting in Missouri and resulted in the deaths of five people and left the mayor critically wounded, as the Record-Chronicle reported in July 2022.

At the time of the report, handguns weren’t allowed in the Denton City Council Chamber yet. According to city staff, they had no way of knowing if people were adhering to the “no firearms allowed” signage since they weren’t checking with a metal detector.

Now they will be including this safety protocol if the City Council passes the resolution next Tuesday.