Licensed Texans will be able to openly carry holstered handguns many places as of Friday — but not in a handful of Tarrant County court buildings.
County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to “reaffirm” that weapons are not allowed in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, Family Law Center, Tom Vandergriff Civil Courts Building, the historic 1895 Courthouse or the Scott D. Moore Juvenile Justice Center.
“They qualify as court buildings, which allows us to ban handguns there,” County Administrator G.K. Maenius said. “This is to give clear guidance to the sheriff’s department.”
Weapons are allowed in other county buildings, except in restricted areas such as courtrooms, Maenius said.
Tuesday’s action comes months after state lawmakers approved Open Carry in Texas, allowing residents who are licensed — which means they are at least 21, have a clear criminal record and no record of mental illness — to carry their holstered guns openly in the same places they could previously carry them concealed. The law takes effect on Friday.
Lawmakers also approved letting licensed Texans carry concealed handguns on college campuses as of Aug. 1, 2016. A number of private colleges, including TCU and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, have opted out of the law as they are allowed to do.
Nearly 914,000 Texans, or about 4 percent of the state’s 27 million residents, have a License To Carry, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records.
As government officials determine where weapons may be carried, businesses are also determining whether or not to allow concealed or openly carried handguns onto their property.
In the past, businesses put up one sign to prevent concealed handguns from being carried into their building. 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.
Where guns aren’t allowed
Legal teams locally and statewide have been reviewing the issue of where guns are allowed since lawmakers passed the Open Carry law.
Guns are still not allowed in several locations, including schools, election sites, racetracks, restricted areas of airports, courtrooms and correctional facilities.
A new law requiring government officials to review their gun policies, and make sure they aren’t wrongly restricting weapons where they should be allowed, went into effect in September.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson and her staff have studied the issue for months.
Wilson issued a Dec. 14 memo stating that the law prevents the “public carrying of firearms in all portions of buildings which predominantly house courts or offices used by the court.”
But she noted that “in other buildings containing courts, the law prohibited firearms only in those particular areas of the building where the courts and offices utilized by the courts are located.”
She wrote that this is consistent with “legislative intent of prohibiting handguns within those buildings or portions of buildings utilized by courts, where the potential for adversity, hostility and rulings on loss of liberty or property are commonplace.”
Guns were already off limits at Tarrant County’s courthouses, but commissioners chose to “reaffirm” that decision Tuesday.
“This was to give clear guidance that we designate those five buildings as court buildings,” Maenius said.
State weighs in
Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a ruling stating that if a building has other offices in addition to courts, those areas should not prohibit the open carry of guns.
Paxton’s ruling was a response to Allison Palmer, district attorney for the 51st Judicial District that includes Tom Green County in West Texas.
“The Legislature has not clearly demarcated, or established, a precise boundary in a building or portion of a building at which handguns are prohibited or permitted,” Paxton’s opinion stated.
The ruling stated that the ban on guns should only be on courtrooms, and offices crucial to running those courts, since state lawmakers didn’t clearly outline the application of the law.