Other Voices

Agency bans, then quickly unbans, guns at work

George P. Bush succeeded Jerry Patterson this year as Texas land commissioner.
George P. Bush succeeded Jerry Patterson this year as Texas land commissioner. MCT

There was a time when Texans proudly elected statewide officials with a certain flair that helped cement the rest of the nation’s fondest impressions or worst fears about our fine state.

For example, we once had a state land commissioner who carried a pistol in his boot. But that was another time, dating way back to last December.

Now Jerry Patterson is out and George P. Bush is in as land commissioner. And last Friday, Bush’s staff announced a new policy in which General Land Office employees would no longer be allowed to carry concealed weapons on the job. (It’s semi-important to note that Patterson, then a state senator, authored the concealed carry law.)

The Friday announcement via email to GLO staffers said the new policy would take effect Jan. 1. But on Monday, after “feedback” from those staffers, the agency did what looks like a 180. There will, spokeswoman Brittany Eck said, be no change in policy, though it will be in writing for the first time.

What it means is concealed handgun license holders at the GLO can carry on carrying at work.

The proposed new rule that was shot down (sorry) was described in last Friday’s email to staffers as “updated GLO policy on possession of weapons on state property.” “As always,” Chief Clerk Anne Isdal said in the email, “your questions and feedback are encouraged and welcome.”

The short-lived, never-implemented policy was straightforward: “A GLO employee may not possess or carry a firearm or other weapon on his or her person while on the premises of the GLO or while performing official duties for the GLO in any other location.”

It was to apply to CHL holders and said exceptions would be made, including for security personnel “acting within the scope of his or her duties.” Additional exceptions, the policy said, could be granted for GLO employees who work in “field offices or other remote areas of the state where safety could be a concern.”

But the policy said exceptions would be granted only “in limited circumstances in which it may be useful for an employee to possess or carry a handgun on GLO premises or while performing official duties.”

Eck said Monday the policy sent out Friday was intended as a “draft policy,” though she acknowledges that was not clear.

“The commissioner wanted, going forward, that the policy be more clean and simplistic,” Eck said, adding that the initial policy “was not a ban.”

“It was that you would fill out a form and request an exemption. Unless you filled out the form you would not be allowed to (carry a concealed handgun),” Eck said. “The new policy is cleaner and simplistic.”

And it sounds a whole lot like the old policy allowing CHL holders to carry.

“The policy being drafted will clarify that those who possess and maintain a valid CHL will continue to be allowed to carry concealed,” Eck said.

And she told me she believes Bush has a CHL. She didn’t know whether he takes a pistol to work.

“It would be concealed if he did, so I wouldn’t know,” she said.

One more thing: Last Friday’s email to GLO staffers noted that “one important point of clarification can be addressed immediately.” It involves Texas’ new law, effective Jan. 1, allowing license holders to openly carry.

“As the GLO is prohibiting ‘open carry’ during the course of an employee’s work day, employees may not wear GLO-branded items on personal time while they choose to open carry,” the email said.

Eck said Monday that policy takes effect Jan. 1.

Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. kherman@statesman.com