National

Are Texans confused about open carry?

A group of Open Carry supporters gathered in Arlington on Jan. 1 to celebrate the new law by openly carrying their handguns.
A group of Open Carry supporters gathered in Arlington on Jan. 1 to celebrate the new law by openly carrying their handguns. Special to the Star-Telegram

Almost 1 million Texans have been able to carry holstered handguns openly in the state since Jan. 1.

And in the more than three weeks since the law took effect, few problems have arisen, a group of law enforcers and attorneys told state lawmakers during a three-hour committee hearing Tuesday.

“I wish I had some exciting stories to tell, but I don’t,” Luis Gonzalez, assistant director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the Senate State Affairs Committee at the Texas Capitol. “Our interaction with license holders has been very limited and very uneventful.”

But lawmakers say questions about the law clearly remain, so they are trying to determine what tweaks are needed to make it less confusing.

What are the rules? What is the law? Where can I? Where can’t I?

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she’s receiving these types of questions about the open carry law.

“The most often complaint I’m hearing is the uncertainty,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, a committee member. “What are the rules? What is the law? Where can I? Where can’t I?

“The public is still very confused,” said Nelson, whose district includes part of Tarrant County. “The more we can do to inform the public, … the better it is for everyone.”

“There’s still some work to do,” agreed state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, chairman of the committee.

Lawmakers not only heard from law enforcers and legal experts Tuesday about the open carry law, but they also received an update from college chancellors about work underway to prepare for campus carry — the law that takes effect Aug. 1 allowing licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns at public colleges.

At a time when thousands of people are injured or die every year because of guns, more needs to be done to inform Texans of the law, said Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense.

“We have a gun violence problem in our state,” she said. “I think we need to do a better outreach campaign.”

The latest numbers show that 937,000 people, around 4 percent of the state’s 27 million residents, have a license to carry, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Open carry

Lawmakers approved open carry last year.

We’re just not seeing people openly carrying on the street.

Justin Wood, chief prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office major offenders division.

The law basically states that openly carried handguns are allowed anywhere concealed handguns were allowed in the past.

“We’re just not seeing people openly carrying on the street,” said Justin Wood, chief prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office major offenders division.

Business owners who don’t want handguns on their property may post signs prohibiting them. And guns aren’t allowed in some locations such as election sites, racetracks, schools while children are there and courtrooms.

Some questions remain, such as whether guns are allowed at schools when school isn’t in session and no school-sponsored activities are going on, whether guns are allowed in places of worship and whether law enforcers can ask gun-toting Texans to show a gun license.

And questions remain about whether local governments are correctly banning guns on some properties. The Texas attorney general’s office is still reviewing complaints, such as those filed about whether banning guns from the Fort Worth Zoo is lawful.

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.

Campus carry

Texans with concealed handgun licenses have been able to carry on college campuses, but not in buildings, since lawmakers approved the concealed handgun law more than 20 years ago, lawmakers say.

A number of private universities, including TCU, Texas Wesleyan and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, have opted out of allowing guns on campus.

Last year, lawmakers approved campus carry — allowing licensed Texans as of Aug. 1 to carry concealed handguns at public universities in Texas and at any private university that doesn’t declare itself off-limits to handguns. The law takes effect for community colleges next year.

A number of private universities, including TCU, Texas Wesleyan and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, have opted out of allowing guns on campus.

Chancellors at the state’s six largest public universities told lawmakers that their campuses are working on policies, trying to determine which areas should be off-limits to concealed carry, and that they will have policies in place when the law takes effect.

“We anticipate during the next month the recommendations from the three campuses will come in,” said Lee Jackson, chancellor of the University of North Texas System, which includes the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

UNT’s Denton campus recently released a proposed policy for its campus that prohibits concealed handguns in areas such as college sporting events or competitions; places of worship; election polling places; any place used as a court; areas where “substances designated as ‘immediately dangerous to life and health’ are present,” such as the Clean Room at Discovery Park; labs where biological hazards are stored; health clinics; areas where services to minors are provided; and graduations.

The proposal also allows a temporary prohibition of concealed handguns in certain circumstances, such as when it appears there is a threat, there has been a history of violence or where a “large-scale activity” carries a “reasonable threat to health or safety.”

Policies for other UNT campuses, including Fort Worth’s health science center, have yet to be formally proposed or made public.

The only people legally allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus are those who have licenses..

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

  Comments