A former U.S. Marshal on whether judges should carry guns

A September 2017 poll by The National Judicial College found that more than 1 in 4 of its judicial alumni carry guns. The survey came in the wake of a shooting of an Ohio judge, Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr., who returned fire along with a probation officer and killed the assailant.

Former U.S. Marshal John F. Muffler, who teaches for the College, offers this perspective:

Judges are at risk daily because of the inherent danger of their position. All judges are easy targets outside of the court environment. And not all are secured within it either. Some have minimal to no security at their workplace or travel to remote locations alone. Many are left to fend for themselves with no law enforcement response due to remote locations.

A canon of judicial ethics states that judges shall perform their duties impartially and diligently. That’s tough to do under threat, which gives a plausible reason for wanting to carry a gun.

If a judge is considering carrying a gun (or does so already):

• Practice with local police/sheriffs
• Don’t carry in a courtroom if you have armed guards
• Get the right weapon-retention holster; secure it when not carrying
• If you are going to carry, don’t think for one second that brandishing it to scare away a threat will work — that gun could be taken from you and used against you
• Guns can provide a false sense of security. I’ve often preached the benefits of being situationally aware. The “courthouse alley” and area around your residence are key places to be paying attention to your surroundings, because that is where the attack will happen. Don’t turn off your situational awareness just because you have a gun

There is a reason Judge Bruzzese’s shooter took up a position at the parking area: It was a predictable and an unsecured location, easily exploitable. The difference in this particular scenario was the gun. Without it the judge was dead. Period. But the story of judicial security does not, and should not, ever begin and end with arming the judiciary. So many other sound security processes need to be exercised.

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