In the last few weeks of 2009, residents entering the Knox County Courthouse in Rockland were greeted by two security officers and asked to step through a metal detector.

Those who had metal zippers on their coats or items in their pockets that set off the detectors were then screened with a hand-held metal-detecting wand.

While those who had not spent much time at court might have assumed this was just business as usual, frequent visitors knew this was the first time in months that those entering the courtroom had been screened for weapons. And by the first business day of 2010, the screeners were gone once again.

This added security may mean a minor inconvenience to some and certainly a strain on the state budget, but it is important to protect courthouses. In many trials and other cases where people are facing jail time, being sued, getting divorced and engaging in heated conflicts, emotions often run high and can overwhelm common sense. It is a comfort to those sitting in a courtroom to know that everyone else in the room has been screened for firearms.

Some of the issues with Maine’s court security were addressed recently by Director of Court Security Col. Michael Coty when he spoke before the Augusta Kiwanians.

Although all Maine courts have metal detectors, Coty said, Maine is the lone state that does not provide entry screening in all of its courts.

He displayed a sample of some of the 7,767 weapons marshals have confiscated with metal detectors, including brass knuckles and switchblades.

The New York Times reported Jan. 4 that “a gunman in a black trench coat opened fire in the lobby of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy United States marshal … He was then shot in the head and killed nearby.”

The Maine court system’s Director of Information Mary Ann Lynch said Jan. 4 that it would be great to provide metal detector screening and added security whenever court is in session. That is not the case because of budgetary constraints, she said.

Of course there is no way to guarantee absolute safety without creating a police state. A gunman could still wait outside a courthouse for people to enter or exit. The use of taxpayer money is also an issue.

The idea that Maine is somehow sheltered from the violence and crime that happens elsewhere in the nation is outdated, however, and should not be a factor in policy decisions.