On January 1, 2016, thanks to the efforts of the Texas Legislature, Governor Abbott, and, of course, open-carry supporters across the state, Texas will begin allowing the lawful open carry of handguns by ordinary citizens for the first time in over 140 years. A simple change in Texas gun law will allow a person with a handgun license issued or recognized by the State of Texas to lawfully carry a handgun of their choosing in plain view, if it is carried in a belt or shoulder holster.
The new law changes the name of our Texas Concealed Handgun License to a Texas “License To Carry,” or LTC. The great news for current license holders is that there are no other changes to a license holder’s currently-held handgun license or their ability to carry a concealed handgun. There are no new requirements that a current license holder receive any additional training, obtain a new license, or carry a concealed handgun in a holster (though new applicants will be required to undergo training on the use of holsters as part of their initial license training).
Starting January, a license holder will be able to lawfully carry a visible handgun in a belt or shoulder holster anywhere the license holder can currently carry a concealed handgun, with one significant exception. Campuses of public or private institutions of higher learning (i.e. colleges, universities, and technical institutes) are “no open carry” zones. In a compromise made to ensure the passage of separate “campus carry” legislation, the Texas Legislature has decided that a license holder can only carry concealed handguns while on college or university sidewalks, walkways, streets, parking lots, parking garages, and buildings (as of August 1, 2016 for colleges, universities, and technical institutes, or August 1, 2017 for public junior colleges).
The unlicensed open carry of a handgun in places other than one’s premises, vehicle/watercraft, or premises under one’s control will continue to be considered “unlawful carrying of a weapon,” a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or up to a year in county jail.1
The New “30.07” sign
In anticipation of the potential for alarm that openly-carried handguns might cause, the Texas Legislature also enacted a new law that acts as an open-carry duplicate to Texas Penal Code 30.06 (criminal trespass by a license holder carrying a concealed handgun). The new Texas Penal Code Sec. 30.07 allows private property owners to restrict the open carry of handguns by license holders on their property by posting a new “30.07” sign or giving written or verbal “30.07” trespassing notice. If a property owner wishes to prevent license holders from carrying either concealed or open handguns on their property, they must post both a “30.06” sign and a “30.07” sign.
An unexpected benefit of the debate over the “open carry” bill is that it resulted in lowering the potential penalty for anyone accused of violating a “30.06” sign from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in county jail and/or a $4,000 fine) to a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $200 only. This is the penalty for the new 30.07 law as well. This means that even if a license holder is convicted of trespassing in violation of a property owner’s “30.06” or “30.07” sign, there is no possibility of jail time and no potential for revocation of their handgun license. However, if a license holder is given a personal, verbal “30.06” or “30.07” warning such as “we don’t allow guns in here” or “you are not allowed to open carry in here,” and the license holder refuses to leave or conceal their handgun, the potential penalty remains a Class A misdemeanor.
As might be imagined, the open carry bill did not get through the Texas Legislature without some controversy. An amendment to restrict a police officer’s ability to stop and verify that a person who is carrying a handgun is licensed to do so (or falls under some other exception) was initially put into the bill to prevent possible police abuses of open carriers, but was later removed by the Legislature’s conference committee to ensure that the bill would pass. This means that a police officer who sees a person in a public place with a handgun may detain them to determine if they are exempted from the general prohibition against carrying a handgun without a license. If a person is stopped by a police officer, and the officer asks to see ID, the LTC holder is obliged to show the officer both their ID and LTC. Once the person is verified to be in possession of a valid LTC, the police encounter should end.
Great Things to Come
Texas’ move towards acceptance of a citizen’s right to open carry has been a long time coming. Surprisingly, even though Texas is viewed as a having a pro-Second Amendment history, it was behind 44 other states in approving some form of “open carry” of handguns. However, gun owners across the state can take heart, knowing that the efforts of open-carry supporters and gun rights activists are gaining steady ground in protecting and expanding our freedoms despite the challenges we often face.