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Oct. 23, 2003, 11:47PM

Group sues Metro over rule banning gun carriers on buses

By HARVEY RICE
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

The Texas State Rifle Association and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to strike down a Metropolitan Transit Authority regulation banning people from carrying concealed weapons on Metro buses.

Four other persons licensed to carry a concealed weapon joined the lawsuit, arguing that the regulation violates provisions in the Texas Constitution protecting the right to bear arms.

Patterson, District 11 state senator from 1993-99 and author of the concealed handgun law, said the lawsuit is ultimately aimed at overturning similar regulations banning concealed weapons at transit authorities statewide.

"Metro, we believe, have exceeded their police power," said attorney Jerod Woodfill, who filed the lawsuit. Woodfill is chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

"The state has essentially said that these people are well qualified and have the proper character to carry a gun," Woodfill said.

Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton said he is unable to comment until he has seen the lawsuit. He said the regulation took effect in 1995.

The regulation was written in response to legislation authorizing concealed handguns, and specifically prohibits them.

Patterson said every transit authority in Texas, with the exception of Dallas, banned concealed weapons after the Legislature authorized them in 1995.

"The predictions were that there would be blood in the streets, but Metro continues with this anachronism," Patterson said.

As land commissioner, Patterson is required by law to live in Travis County, but he said he often visits Harris County and frequently rides the bus. "I have carried my weapon on the bus and will do so every time I ride," he said.

Patterson said the association, which claims 3,000 members in the Metro operating area, chose Metro as its first target because it was easy to find plaintiffs.

He said two of the plaintiffs joining him in the lawsuit, James and Mary Ann Knouse, are an elderly couple who have been barred from riding MetroLift because they carry concealed weapons.

Clayton Gaskill, 49, a motion picture camera technician who lives in Houston, said he joined the lawsuit because "it doesn't seem to make sense for them to be able to set a policy that's not lawful."

Gaskill, who has carried a concealed weapon since 1995, said the weapon was "like having a fire extinguisher or a spare tire for your car."