As of Jan. 1, it’s a new world in Texas. Or a throwback to the past, depending on how you look at it.
For the first time in more than a century, licensed Texans will be free to walk the streets, or travel the state, openly wearing their holstered handguns.
Law enforcers have a piece of advice for Texans.
“Over and above everything, remain calm,” said Terry Grisham, executive administrator at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. “The world as we know it isn’t going to start turning backward on its axis when this goes into effect.”
He and others stress that the people who will be openly carrying their guns are the same people who have been carrying their handguns concealed in Texas for 20 years.
They’ve just now taken their jackets off.
By Jan. 1, 2017, there aren’t going to be any parades, no one is going to care about it and it’s going to be yesterday’s news. Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney at the Austin-based Texas District and County Attorneys Association
“You never knew about it before and it didn’t give you heartburn,” said Shannon Edmonds, a staff attorney for the Austin-based Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “What we are hearing from other states is that it’s not that big a deal.
“You’ll see people parading around with their guns this Jan. 1, but by Jan. 1, 2017, there aren’t going to be any parades, no one is going to care about it and it’s going to be yesterday’s news.”
In Texas, almost 914,000 people — or nearly 4 percent of the state’s 27 million residents — have a license to carry, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Still, it may come as a shock to some Texans when they start to see people openly wearing holstered handguns in the new year.
“I’m appalled by this,” said Marsha McCartney, an activist for sensible gun laws. “It’s sad that our governor feels Texas is such a dangerous place that he needs everyone armed.
“I’m not looking forward to it.”
How to handle the change
The Legislature first restricted the carrying of pistols in public in 1871. That law didn’t change until 1995, when lawmakers allowed the concealed carry of handguns.
The next big change comes Jan. 1, when Texans who are licensed — which means they are at least 21, have a clear criminal record and no record of mental illness — may carry their guns openly in the same places they carried them concealed.
As the new law is on the verge of taking effect, officials statewide are trying to determine how best to handle it.
They say anyone who sees a person openly carrying a handgun, and feels threatened, should call their police or sheriff’s department.
Beyond that, attorneys and law enforcers are reviewing the law and briefing others on how it will work.
“We have been consulting with our local law enforcement agencies, elected officials and judiciary to answer questions about the changes this new law will bring,” Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas is working with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to develop a training program to teach officers the best way to deal with the new law, said John Moritz, a spokesman for the organization.
And staffers with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association have been traveling across the state teaching prosecutors, police and judges about the “nuts and bolts” of the law, Edmonds said.
Short term or long lasting?
Gov. Greg Abbott said the Second Amendment must be protected.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed open carry into law this year
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” he said the day he signed this bill into law. “Texans can be assured that their Second Amendment rights will be stronger and more secure than ever before.”
But Curtis Van Liew, a local concealed handgun license instructor, said he fears that people might get more than they bargained for if they decide to openly carry their handguns after Jan. 1.
“If you are in a public place, and you have a handgun on in plain sight, if something goes down that’s a violent offense, … you are going to be the first one they take out,” said Van Liew, with the Texas EZ Concealed Handgun License class.
If you open carry your gun, you are putting a bull’s-eye on your chest and back everywhere you go. Curtis Van Liew, local concealed handgun license instructor
“I tell people if you open carry your gun, you are putting a bull’s-eye on your chest and back everywhere you go.”
He said he and other local instructors have seen a boost in the number of people signing up for Concealed Handgun License classes since Thanksgiving.
While the interest is high now, he said he doesn’t think a lot of Texans will open carry for long.
“I think it’s going to be a fad,” he said. “You’re going to have a few diehards who continue to do it, but (for the majority), I think it’s not going to last.”
Many questions remain, just days before the law goes into effect.
One is whether law enforcers have the authority to ask those openly carrying whether they have a license.
“A peace officer can ask another person darn near anything he wishes during a ‘consensual encounter’ or investigatory detention, but it is up to that other person to decide whether or how much to reply,” Edmonds said.
A section in the government code requires license holders to show their license to any law enforcer who asks for it. But there’s no criminal penalty for someone who does not comply.
In Fort Worth, “officers will not be asking people who openly carry to see their license,” said Cpl. Tracey Knight, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Police Department. “The procedures are the same as before the law change — citizen contacts can be consensual, there must be reasonable suspicion to detain or there must be probable cause to arrest.”
In Parker County, though, law enforcers say those openly carrying handguns shouldn’t be surprised if police or deputies ask to see their license.
It is my fervent hope that we do not encounter any incidents where someone pushes the parameters of the law. Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler
“Be very aware that if a law enforcement officer requests to see your identification or for proof of a concealed handgun license [you should] cooperate fully,” Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said. “And [don’t] be offended if you are asked. We have a job to do, and the safety of our citizens is our first priority.
“It is my fervent hope that we do not encounter any incidents where someone pushes the parameters of the law.”
In Tarrant County, law enforcers will go through brief training classes soon and more extensive training classes early next year.
“However, our interactions with the public will not drastically change,” Knight said. “There has been concealed carry of handguns and open carry of long guns for many years, so our officers will continue to address these issues in a professional, safe and legal manner.”
Another key issue statewide is what business owners should do if they want to prevent people from carrying guns into their establishments.
In the past, they put up one sign preventing concealed handguns from being carried into their business.
Now, they must post two — called 30.07 (preventing open carry) and 30.06 (preventing concealed carry).
The signs must be posted at any entrance to the building and list in contrasting colors, using letters at least an inch tall, a 38-word message in English and Spanish.
Kevin Simmons, owner of 7th Street Gold & Silver, said he won’t be letting gun-carrying customers into his business.
He said he believes the sight of an armed shopper might make many of his regular customers uncomfortable.
“If I get somebody I don’t know coming into my store with a gun on their side, I don’t know if it’s for their protection or they are going to rob me,” said Simmons, who buys, sells and trades jewelry. “I’m not going to take the chance.
“I believe in everybody protecting themselves. But there’s idiots out there.”
Fair enough, said Mark Goodman, a partner at the Dallas-based law firm Fox Rothschild.
“Business owners have to decide for themselves whether to allow or restrict open carry, concealed carry or both on their premises,” he said.
And tenants who lease their space from a landlord must know what the landlord’s policy is and abide by it.
But if a business decides to prevent handguns, workers make sure they put up signs that meet state requirements to notify customers adequately.
If there are no signs, “they are not legally preventing people with guns from coming in,” Goodman said.
McCartney said she has talked to people about open carry and has yet to find one who supports it.
When she sees someone wearing an openly displayed gun, one question will run through her head.
“How are you supposed to know if that person has good intentions or bad?” she asked. “You have no way of knowing. I think that will frighten people because they will be left to wonder.”
Because of the uncertainty, police encourage Texans to be respectful and courteous as people become accustomed to the law.
“All the open carry law said was that anywhere you can go with a concealed handgun you can openly carry,” said Edmonds, of the District and County Attorneys Association. “It’s just from under the jacket to over the jacket.
“It’s not that complicated.”
Staff writer Lance Winter contributed to this report.
Open carry law takes effect Jan. 1
The open carry law, which lets licensed Texans openly carry their holstered handguns, takes effect Jan. 1.
Who can openly carry guns? Those eligible for a license to carry, which is needed to legally tote holstered handguns openly or concealed, must be 21, have a clean criminal record, take a class and pay a fee. They must have lived in Texas for at least six months, pass a background check for mental and criminal histories and not be chemically dependent or delinquent on taxes or child support.
Do people who already have a concealed handgun license have to get a new license to carry openly? No. The CHL covers the license holder. When it is renewed, it will be a renamed License to Carry and will allow open or concealed carry.
Is additional training needed to openly carry? No, but new training will be added to classes which license holders will get the next time they renew their license.
How can Texans openly carry guns? Handguns carried openly must be in a shoulder or belt holster. Retention holsters are recommended but not required.
What should you do if you see someone carrying a handgun and are worried for your safety? Call your local law enforcement agency or flag down an officer. Officials recommend that you say why you feel worried or threatened.
What are police allowed to ask or not ask when questioning someone? Depends on whom you ask. If it’s a consensual encounter, police may ask if a person has a license to carry but if the person is free to leave, they don’t have to show it. If a person is being legally arrested on a different charge, they may also be arrested for a failure to show ID. State officials say there’s nothing to stop an officer from asking a person if they are licensed to carry a handgun. There’s a section in the government code that requires license holders to show their license to any law enforcer who asks for it. But there’s no criminal penalty for someone who does not comply. Weatherford police say that “if you are approached by a peace officer, you are required to present your identification and handgun license to prove that you are not subject to arrest under 46.02 of the Penal Code.”
Can police stop and question someone they see carrying a weapon? State officials say police can stop and ask anyone anything during a “consensual encounter.” Local law enforcers say that if a person is openly carrying a handgun, but not doing anything suspicious and law enforcers have no reason to stop and question that person, then he or she should not be stopped or detained just for openly carrying.
Where can Texans openly carry guns? Texans may openly carry guns the same places they carry concealed guns. Guns are not allowed in several locations, including schools, election sites, racetracks, restricted areas of airports, courtrooms, rooms where government officials such as the city council and county commissioners are meeting, correctional facilities, and anywhere within 1,000 feet of an execution site on the day of an execution.
Can Texans carry them into private businesses? Business owners who want to stop guns from being carried openly or concealed on their premises must post two signs —30.07 (preventing open carry) and 30.06 (preventing concealed carry). Both or either sign must be posted at any entrance to the building and list in contrasting colors, using letters at least an inch tall, a 38-word message in English and Spanish. Other businesses may post signs noting that the “unlicensed possession” of a handgun on the premises, such as convenience stores and liquor stores, is a felony.
Can handguns carried openly or concealed be loaded? Yes
What about campus carry? Texans may carry concealed handguns on parts of some college campuses starting Aug. 1, 2016. A number of private colleges, including TCU, Rice University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, have opted out of the law, as they are allowed to do. Public universities may specify areas on campus where guns are not allowed but they cannot completely ban concealed handguns on campus. The law takes effect Aug. 1, 2017, for public junior colleges.
How many other states allow open carry? While some portions of the law may differ, 45 states allow open carry, according to the former president of the National Rifle Association.
Sources: Texas Department of Public Safety, Star-Telegram research