The Implications of Texas’s New Open Carry Law

Texas’s new “open carry” law came into effect on Jan 1, 2016, sparking considerable discussion about how it will affect the criminal law and the safety of citizens.

The new law permits concealed handgun licensees to openly carry a holstered firearm, making Texas the largest state to have this kind of law on its statute books and Houston that largest city in the nation to legalize the “open carry” of handguns.

Notwithstanding the large amount of publicity about the new law, there’s still a lot of misinformation and unanswered questions.

Who Can Carry a Handgun in Public?

It’s not a free-for-all. The law only permits concealed handgun licensees to openly carry a holstered firearm. That’s about 850,000 people in Texas who have concealed handgun licenses, as well as people with recognized permits from other states.

There are some gray areas about whether police can legally approach those who are openly carrying handguns and demand to see their documentation.

Further weapons possession or carry charges can arise out of encounters with police in situations such as traffic stops or searches on the street. The police also may charge you with a crime if they receive a tip that you have a weapon, or if one is found when you are being arrested on an unrelated charge.

Many types of weapons are illegal in Texas and remain unlawful under the new legislation. They include:

  1. Explosives including bombs, mortars and rockets.
  2. Machine guns
  3. Shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long.
  4. Rifles with barrels less than 16 inches long
  5. Switchblade knives
  6. A shotgun or rifle that has been altered so that it’s less than 26 inches long.
  7. Brass knuckles.
  8. Improvised handguns, also known as “zip guns.”

Being in the illegal possession of a switchblade or brass knuckles constitutes a Class A misdemeanor. You could face up to a year in a county jail or a fine of up to $4,000. If you are found to be in possession of any of the other proscribed weapons, you will face a third-degree felony that can result in 2 to 10 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Places Where You Cannot Carry a Weapon

Even if you are a handgun licensee, you will run into trouble with the law if you carry a weapon in the following places. However, the law is fast changing. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed a law making carrying concealed handguns on public university campuses legal from 1 August 2016. At present places where you cannot carry a gun include:

  • On the premises of a polling place on voting day, or while voting is taking place (Texas Pen. Code § 46.03.)
  • In the secured area of an airport (Texas Pen. Code § 46.035.)
  • Within 1,000 feet of jails or prison premises (Texas Pen. Code § 46.035.)
    On church or synagogue premises (Texas Pen. Code § 46.035.)
  • In a hospital (Texas Pen. Code §46.035.)
  • At a school or on a school bus (Texas Pen. Code § 46.03.)
  • In an establishment that’s licensed to sell liquor when that business derives 51 percent or more of its income from liquor sales (Texas Pen. Code § 46.035.).

Recently the Houston Police Department provided some answers to questions on Texas’s open carry law. However, what’s left out of the legislation is a potential cause for concern.

“There is a difference of opinion about whether or not just the mere fact that someone is walking down Main Street carrying a pistol in a holster is sufficient probable cause for a police officer to insist on seeing their handgun permit,” Kevin Laurence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association said in a recent article in the Waco Tribune. “We are going to wind up having to get court cases out of this defining exactly what authority police officers have.”

If you face criminal charges over a gun law violation, it’s important to hire an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.