How Texas is preparing for upcoming open carry gun law

How Texas is preparing for upcoming open carry gun law
In this photo taken on Jan. 13, 2015, Matthew Short , public relations director with Come and Take It Texas and DontComply.com, shows the incomplete AR-15 lower receiver which was to be completed by the Ghost Cutter CNC machine, at left, by Defense Distributed at a rally to support HB195, the open carry bill, at the Capitol in Austin. The gun-rights groups that planned to stage a mock shooting at the University of Texas are moving their event off-campus after getting a warning from the school. The groups Come and Take It Texas and Dontcomply.com announced plans for the Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, event that would include cardboard guns and fake blood. (Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

As of January 1, 2016, licensed Texans will no longer be forced to conceal their revolvers or semi-automatic handguns while out in public.

According to a new open carry law, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed at a gun range last June, licensed Texans can now openly carry their firearm (as long as it’s secured in a belt or shoulder holster) in all the same places where they could already carry a concealed weapon—which is pretty much anywhere except federal buildings, courthouses, polling places, amusement parks, worship centers, sporting events, jails, and businesses like bars where more than 51 percent of their earnings come from alcohol sales.

Still, while the law isn’t exactly intended to make gun owners out of people who weren’t already privately packing heat, the prospect of seeing armed citizens walking down the sidewalk, driving in their cars, eating at restaurants, or even depositing a check at the bank has some Texans—including police—on edge.

To quell concerns and avoid chaos, local officials have started prepping citizens, 911 operators, and law enforcement agents on the law ahead of the new year.

The city of Dallas, for example, has published a guide to answer Frequently Asked Questions about the new law, such as “Where am I prohibited from carrying a handgun?” and “Can my openly carried handgun be loaded?” [It can.] 

The city has also released a video targeted, presumably, at its non-gun toting residents, urging them to be “tolerant to Texans openly carrying revolvers and semi-automatics” in the New Year.

While “we understand that you may feel alarmed, or even scared when encountering a person who’s openly carrying a handgun,” says a city spokeswoman in the video, concerned citizens are asked to familiarize themselves with the basics of the new law so as to avoid flooding 911 lines with reports of every person in Texas who looks ready for a shootout come January 1.

“Only call 911 if you encounter a person who is in violation of the law,” says the spokeswoman, noting that questions should be directed to 311. Such 911-worthy violations include: removing the gun from a secured belt or shoulder holster, appearing intoxicated while carrying a gun, or “obviously committing a crime or acting in a reckless or suspicious manner.”

In Houston, a number of concerned restaurant owners are already planning to take advantage of a particular aspect of the Texas Penal Code that says private businesses can prohibit patrons from openly carrying guns by posting a sign in plain view that says, “contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height:”

"Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly”

According to the Houston Press, a number of security retailers are already stocked with pre-made signs that meet the penal code’s requirements. 

Business owners aren’t the only ones bracing for Texans to start carrying firearms in plain sightt. 311 and 911 operators are being trained on details of the new law, as are the police.

Though Dallas Police Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner told the Dallas Morning News that he expects to see mostly law-abiding citizens openly carrying in 2016, Texas law enforcement officials were among the new law’s biggest adversaries.

Back in February, the Texas Police Chiefs Association sent a survey to more than 800 police chiefs from across the state. Of the 200 or so who responded, nearly 75 percent said they were opposed to open carry. 

The police chiefs really took a stand in May, when the state House added a provision to its open carry bill restricting a police officer’s ability to ask gun toting Texans to show their permits.

Though there was originally plenty of resistance from legislators to the open carry legislation itself, this provision actually received bipartisan support with Democratic and minority lawmakers arguing that if open carry was going to become legal, this would at least help prevent racial profiling.

“What’s going to happen is more interaction between police and black and brown and poor people because of lawful activity,” Rep. Harold Dutton, an African American Democrat from Houston, said at the time. 

The police chiefs, however, argued that such a provision would “handcuff” law enforcement and prevent cops from effectively protecting their communities and themselves.

“It absolutely allows criminals to carry a gun with impunity,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, calling on Governor Greg Abbott to veto the bill if the provision was not removed. 

It didn’t come to that, however. As a result of the staunch opposition from law enforcement across the state, the controversial clause was not included in the version of the bill that landed on Abbott’s desk in June.

Colleges and universities may still be among the places where open carry is prohibited under the new law, but Texans won’t have to go unarmed at institutions of higher education for much longer.

Along with the open carry law, this June Governor Abbott also signed legislation permitting concealed carry on campus. The so-called “Campus Carry” law doesn’t go into effect until August 1, 2016 which, Texas Monthly points out, is the “fiftieth anniversary of Charles Whitman’s shooting rampage from the University of Texas at Austin’s clock tower.” 

Whitman, a UT engineering student and former Marine, killed 16 people and injured 31 others on the Austin campus in 1966. 

The campus carry law has received criticism from students and professors at UT-Austin and other schools throughout the state, sparking petitions to create gun-free zones in classrooms and efforts to repeal the legislation altogether.

School faculty and administrators still have plenty of time to devise policies for gun-free zones that do not violate the law before it takes effect this August. By that time they might finally be used to seeing people wearing guns in public.