Politics & Government

New year means Texans can openly carry handguns

Supporters of open carry rally in Arlington on New Year’s Day 2016.
Supporters of open carry rally in Arlington on New Year’s Day 2016. Star-Telegram

Jacky Rankin had been waiting for Friday for a long time.

On New Year’s Day, he was finally able to legally carry his holstered handgun openly in Texas.

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s a relief from being restricted.”

The 31-year-old Mansfield man joined about two dozen other open-carry supporters to walk near Lincoln Square in Arlington, handing out fliers explaining the new law and talking to anyone who was curious.

Wearing holstered handguns or long guns strapped to their backs, they carried flags that read “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Come and Take It” and smiled when they heard honks of support from passing drivers.

Until Friday, licensed Texans had to conceal their handguns.

“It’s nice to see our work count for something,” said Chris Miller, 27, an Arlington mechanic who helped organize Friday’s gathering through Open Carry Tarrant County.

“It’s a small step toward constitutional carry. The Second Amendment is very clear about the right to carry arms.”

He and others hope Texas lawmakers, who approved open carry in the 2015 legislative session, will consider constitutional carry — which would let Texans openly carry handguns without any license at all — in 2017.

Not everyone agrees.

In fact, some wish open carry was not the law in Texas.

“We think it’s the wrong direction of where this country needs to go,” said Anna Kehde, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We want to focus on things that will save lives.

“I think it’s going to cause people to feel uncomfortable and nervous. It’s intimidating and may cause more problems than it would solve if conflicts arise.”

Where to shop?

On Friday, a number of Texans took photos of themselves openly carrying handguns to post on social media websites and tried to determine which businesses would allow them to openly carry on their property.

“If a business says there are not guns allowed, I wouldn’t go in there,” Rankin said. “I would not spend my money there.”

Those opposed to open carry say the same: They won’t go into stores where people are allowed to openly carry holstered handguns.

Any business that doesn’t want any guns on their property must post two signs — 30.07 (preventing open carry) and 30.06 (preventing concealed carry) — at any entrance and exit. The signs must list, in contrasting colors and using letters at least an inch tall, a 38-word message in English and Spanish.

In the past, merchants who didn’t want concealed handguns carried into their business had to post one sign.

Kroger, Home Depot and Bass Pro Shops are among the national retailers that have said they do plan to let licensed Texans openly carry handguns onto their property.

Whole Foods, AMC movie theaters, Chuck E. Cheese, Half-Price Books, Toys R Us, Trinity Episcopal Church of Fort Worth, Torchy’s Tacos, Grand Prairie Premium Outlets, Hulen Mall, The Parks at Arlington and Ridgmar Mall are among the establishments saying openly carried guns will not be allowed.

H-E-B grocery stores and Whataburger are among those that have decided open carry isn’t allowed but concealed carry is fine.

The Moms Demand Action group has posted online a list of stores they have learned won’t allow handguns to be openly carried on their property and members say, “Be sure to thank these establishments for their gun sense.”

Nearly 4 percent

The Texas Legislature first restricted the carrying of pistols in public in 1871. That law didn’t change until 1995, when lawmakers allowed handguns to be carried but concealed.

The law was changed in 2015, and Jan. 1 was the first day that Texans who are licensed — which means they are at least 21, have a clear criminal record and no record of mental illness — could legally carry their guns openly.

In Texas, almost 914,000 people, nearly 4 percent of the state’s 27 million residents, have a license to carry, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Peace officers statewide have been trying to determine how to handle the issue. They say anyone who sees a person openly carrying a handgun, and feels threatened, should call their police or sheriff’s department.

Miller is among those hoping that people worried about handguns don’t overwhelm 911 dispatchers with calls.

“If you see someone carrying a pistol, don’t default and just call 911,” he said.

Harley Matson, 23, of Fort Worth joined the open carry gathering Friday. He said he hopes reaching out to fellow Texans will calm any fears.

He carried a 12-gauge shotgun because he doesn’t have a license to carry handguns. But he hopes to get his license soon.

“We want to help people get educated on the laws,” he said. “Some people aren’t sure what’s legal.”

While portions of the laws may differ, 45 states allow open carry.

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure into law last year, he said the right of Texans to bear arms “shall not be infringed.”

“Texans can be assured,” he said, “that their Second Amendment rights will be stronger and more secure than ever before.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Open carry law takes effect

The open carry law, which lets licensed Texans openly carry holstered handguns, took effect Friday.

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 concealed handgun license covers the license holder. When it is renewed, it will be a renamed License to Carry and will allow open or concealed carry.

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.

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.

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, “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.”

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, correctional facilities and within 1,000 feet of the execution chamber in Huntsville on the day of an execution.

Sources: Texas Department of Public Safety, Star-Telegram research

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