MERCER: Fall River County controversy obscures history of courthouses

PIERRE -- There is something afoot in Fall River County that goes deeper than whether guns can be carried in the Hot Springs courthouse on non-court days.


PIERRE - There is something afoot in Fall River County that goes deeper than whether guns can be carried in the Hot Springs courthouse on non-court days.

Presiding Circuit Judge Craig Pfeifle met with the county commissioners Tuesday to explain why he and other judges wanted the decision overturned.

He convinced all but one of the commissioners it was in their best interest to backtrack.

His argument was that a security and safety assessment should be completed before a decision was made.

The Legislature, specifically House Republican leader Lee Qualm, and the National Rifle Association set this in motion.


Qualm, of Platte, sponsored a measure during the 2017 legislative session that would have allowed guns in most areas of the state Capitol in Pierre.

The measure would have applied to people who qualified for an enhanced-carry permit. The permit is available for use in other states.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard used his veto to block Qualm's legislation from becoming law.

The House of Representatives failed to override the veto on the final day of session.

This year marked the second in a row that Qualm tried this.

Qualm added good arguments on his side this year.

Among them were Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and State Treasurer Rich Sattgast. They didn't feel safe while working in their Capitol offices.

The South Dakota Supreme Court, located in the Capitol, has taken to temporarily installing a metal scanner at its courtroom entrance on days when the justices hear cases.


Other offices, including that of the governor, allow people to walk in unchecked for weapons.

There are 64 county courthouses spread across South Dakota. Many of their histories come with disputes from territorial days. Others come with disputes after 1889 statehood.

According to Arthur Rusch, a retired circuit judge from Vermillion and now a state senator, and to Jason Haug, a former state preservationist who most recently works in Minnesota, there were numerous instances when a community raided another to possess the courthouse records.

Rusch and Haug detailed this in their book, County Capitols, published in 2014 by the South Dakota Historical Society Press as volume 5 in the historical preservation series.

Unfortunately, county capitols weren't designed for modern times. Neither was gun violence.

Guns don't belong in our county courthouses and our state's Capitol.

The trouble is, there isn't a commonsense way other than metal detectors to keep the guns out.

What we have in South Dakota are open doors.


Mostly, that is.

Judge Pfeifle cancelled court proceedings twice since the Fall River County commission made its decision.

Then he took a possible solution to the commission Tuesday. He volunteered security experts from Pennington County to conduct an assessment.

The commissioners took a second look and reversed the March decision they originally made after executive session.

What happens next isn't clear.

The west isn't still the west, except when it is.

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