Can Courthouse Shootings Be Prevented?

By Andrew Lu on February 11, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Delaware court shooting has left three people dead, including the alleged shooter, now identified as Thomas Matusiewicz.

Matusiewicz reportedly walked into a courthouse lobby about 8 a.m. Monday and fatally shot two women. Two police officers were wounded and Matusiewicz was killed, though it's not yet clear how he died, The Huffington Post reports. (Thomas Matusiewicz is the father of David Matusiewicz, who was at the courthouse for a hearing this morning. David infamously kidnapped his children in 2007, in violation of a joint custody order.)

The shooting in Wilmington, Delaware, was the latest in a series of recent court shootings that have left lawyers and laypeople wondering whether such tragedies can be prevented, particularly in our halls of justice.

Courthouse Security

Some shootings, of course, are completely random and unavoidable. However, other shootings can be predicted. Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened this morning, but Delaware's attorney general said the shooting was not random. Rather, it had something to do with David Matusiewicz's long-running child custody dispute, Philadelphia's WCAU-TV reports.

In Monday's shooting, Thomas Matusiewicz allgedly gunned down two women who were waiting to go through the courthouse's metal detectors. Security at the courthouse is usually tight, with as many as 10 police officers on duty there, according to WCAU.

Still, a lone gunman was apparently able to take down his targets.

What You Can Do to Stay Safe

Even with courthouse security in place, you may still need to take extra steps to stay safe if you're involved in a contentious court proceeding. Your options can potentially include:

  • Notifying your lawyer. Don't keep your fears of violence to yourself, especially if you have reason to justify your fears. Tell your lawyer and your lawyer may take steps to protect you such as arranging for extra security or simply keeping an extra set of eyes open for potential threats.

  • Filing a restraining order. If the threat is not a party to the court proceeding, you could seek a restraining order and prevent the threat from showing up in court. For example, friends or family members of your opponent may harbor ill feelings toward you, as Thomas Matusiewicz's alleged actions show. Restraining orders are also appropriate for domestic violence situations.

  • Getting the other party's guns taken away. In some states, any conviction for domestic violence -- felony or misdemeanor -- can result in the removal of the abuser's firearms. You may want to ask your lawyer about these laws and how to apply them to your specific situation.

The sobering fact about many court shootings is that many are simply unavoidable. If someone is determined to carry out a shooting, there may be little you or law enforcement can do to stop it.

However, if there is some history of violence and you suspect that your safety may be in danger, don't keep it to yourself. At the very least, report the threat and figure out what additional steps you may want to take to feel secure.

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