The Fort Worth Zoo will remain gun-free.
A recent Texas attorney general’s office ruling prompted by a resident’s complaint states that the privately run facility has the right to keep banning guns from being carried openly or concealed at the 64-acre site.
“The OAG is closing these complaints,” said the office of the attorney general’s ruling on the issue, declaring “no violation.”
This is the first local ruling on residents’ complaints challenging decisions that prevent handguns at certain local properties. A handful of other complaints regarding Fort Worth facilities are still pending.
“Our intent has always been the same, to follow the law,” said Alexis Wilson, the zoo’s communications director. “We were waiting for someone to tell us what we were supposed to do.
“For us, this is [giving firm] direction,” she said. “We know we are following the law.”
Texas law has long stated that local governments may not ban licensed Texans from carrying handguns, except in certain weapon-free zones such as courtrooms, schools and rooms where government entities are meeting.
Until last year, there were no penalties for agencies that wrongly posted signs banning guns at their facilities.
Now, Texans may send written complaints to the state questioning signs they believe are improperly posted.
Officials review the complaints, determine whether they are valid and, if signs are determined to have been wrongly put up, local government officials have to remove them and let licensed Texans carry their weapons there — or pay a fine every day until they do.
“The OAG finds signage posted at the entrance to the zoo is not in violation of” the law, the according to the AG’s letter.
Fort Worth Zoo
The case of the zoo is a bit unusual.
The attraction, founded in 1909, was owned and operated by the city until 1991, when the Fort Worth Zoological Association assumed management of daily operations under contract with the city.
Officials have said they may prevent guns on the property, which is open 365 days a year and features 500 species and about 7,000 individual animals, because the privately run attraction was designated a day-care facility last year by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Some people have long disagreed with that stance, saying that it may be a privately run zoo, but it’s on city-owned land. So it should be fair game for Texans legally carrying handguns, they say.
“We abided by the advice of our attorneys in what seemed to be the superseding law, … which allowed us to continue with our business in the way we want to,” Wilson said. “Not following the law would have potentially meant shutting down our education programs.
“It was [the attorneys’] advice to follow this law because it allowed us to continue our business operations.”
The ruling was based on the fact that the Zoo is run by a private entity, not on the part that declares it a daycare facility.
The ruling was based on the fact that the zoo is run by a private entity, not on the designation as a day-care facility.
“We are just relieved that this [legal challenge] is over and we can all go on and continue being the law abiding citizens we have been.”
Each time a complaint is filed, the attorney general’s office reviews it and determines whether signs are wrongly posted. If they are, any entity that doesn’t remove the signs will be fined for every day they remain posted — $1,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for any offense after that.
So far, more than 20 rulings have come out of the attorney general’s office.
A handful of other complaints about Fort Worth facilities remain unresolved.
They include complaints about guns being prohibited at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, a city facility that is often leased to private businesses; the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, a private building on city-owned land; and the city’s municipal court building, said Gerald Pruitt, deputy city attorney for Fort Worth.
Pruitt said he’s pleased with the attorney general’s ruling on the zoo.
“The language in the statute is not that straightforward and it has always perplexed us a bit,” he said.
But a proposal already filed for the upcoming legislative session, House Bill 234, may clarify the issue.
“We are sitting back to see what happens,” Pruitt said. “It could go either way.”