JONESBORO, Ga. – Spooked by the courthouse shootings in nearby Atlanta, some Clayton County (search) judges are arming themselves with guns.
The judges requested the guns and firearms training from Clayton County police several weeks ago, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said.
Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill said police gave guns to eight Superior and State Court judges.
Clerk of Superior Court Linda Miller said she was offered a gun but declined.
"I had a conversation with Chief Judge Stephen Boswell (search) about the courthouse security issue," Miller said. "He said, 'We're getting guns, do you want one?' I said, 'No, no thank you.'"
Sheriff Hill, whose department is in charge of courthouse security, said he was not told in advance that the police were arming the judges and he wants some answers.
"To issue and bring guns into the courthouse without advance training and notifying the Sheriff's Office of the intent or the location of these weapons shows poor judgment on the part of all involved in the planning of this idea," he told the Clayton News Daily (search).
Neither Turner nor Will Simmons, the Clayton courts administrator, would give the number of guns issued or name the judges who got guns, citing security concerns.
State law allows judges to carry guns in court, and Fulton County State Court Chief Judge A.L. Thompson said a few Fulton County judges have always carried guns. But since the March 11 shooting rampage, more are bringing their own guns to work, he said.
"A number of judges, including myself, have chosen to wear weapons," Thompson said. "I keep one in the car and in chambers."
Thompson said the FBI and other agencies have warned them that another defendant might use a gun to escape, settle a score or seek publicity.
"We are concerned about copycats," Thompson said.
Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs Association, said it is not unusual for judges to carry guns, especially in rural areas.
Arch McGarity, a Superior Court judge in Henry County said he has carried a gun to the bench infrequently for five years but has done so much more often since the Atlanta shootings.
"I like having a gun, because it gives me a great deal of confidence that I will complete the day," he said.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs said she doesn't carry a gun but knows judges who do.
State and city judges in Columbus have also been arming themselves and getting firearms training from police.
Also, federal marshals will teach a five-day class on courthouse security for 50 Georgia law enforcement officials starting June 13 at the Clayton County Courthouse.
On March 11, Brian Nichols, who was on trial in Atlanta for rape, allegedly overpowered a lone deputy and stole her gun. Authorities say he then went on a shooting spree at the courthouse, killing Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and deputy Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. Federal agent David Wilhelm was killed later that day.