The Law: What’s New

Contributed by Stacey Hascoe

Texas protects the right to bear arms under Article I, Section 23 of the state constitution, but this does not mean that everyone may carry a gun, or that you may always carry a gun wherever you like. As of January 1, 2016, Texas requires the following in order to openly carry a gun:

  • Have a concealed-handgun license
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have a clean criminal and psychological record
  • Complete classroom training and pass a shooting test

Previously, Texans with a permit could carry concealed weapons, but now these same permit holders may also open carry their handguns.

Unless you are on your own premises (or premises under your control, such as a house that you rent), or inside (or directly en route to) your motor vehicle or watercraft, Texas requires an individual to have a Concealed Carry Permit in order to carry a weapon concealed on (or near) their body or vehicle (Texas Stat. & Code Ann. § 46.02.).

When it comes to healthcare facilities, the law allows private businesses to ban guns if they choose, which we may see more of now. Many private healthcare facilities worry about the implications of having openly armed patients or visitors. Whereas concealed guns were more acceptable prior to the open carry law, businesses are choosing to opt out of both because allowing for open carry may be bad for business, as owners, visitors, and patients may be uncomfortable.

Gun-Free Zones:

There are certain areas that are labeled “gun-free zones”, these are schools, polling places, courtrooms, secured airport areas, hospitals and public events like professional sporting events on city property, and governmental meetings. When it comes to the workplace, an employer can either allow or restrict employees and visitors to carry on their premises, as long as they adhere to property signage regulations and communicate clear company policies (either verbal or written) to their employees.

How does the law affect clinics, medical offices, and hospitals?

Most Texas state-licensed general and specialty hospitals ban all gun carry on premise. However, privately run MOB’s, Clinics, and Hospitals are required to post signs at all entry points for concealed and open carry both in English and Spanish (signage instructions below).

Government owned institutions cannot opt out of this Open Carry Law. Therefore, one negative side effect of the law is that now, 10 Texas state mental health hospitals must allow open carry weapons, where previously firearms were banned. Facilities can request that firearms be left in a vehicle or be concealed from/around the patients. Allowing visitors to walk around a mental health facility with visible firearms is a scary proposition.

Know Your Rights:

A business owner does have the ability to request that an individual remove their weapon from the premises, or ask him/her to leave the property at any time saying specifically “we don’t allow guns here” or “you are not permitted to open carry here”. If the individual does not comply, they could face a class A Misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing and unlawful carry. This could mean a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail time. Unlicensed possession of a weapon on premises is a felony, which would be a $10,000 fine.

The Loophole:

The law prevents Texans from bringing firearms into public and private hospitals, but clinics and other community health centers are not considered gun-free zones, which could pose a problem. If those facilities improperly ban license holders from carrying handguns, they could face hefty fines.

But, there may be a couple loopholes here. First, if a healthcare facility can prove itself an institution of higher education, they may fall under that provision of the law.

According to the law, weapons are prohibited on “any grounds or building on which an activity sponsored by a school or educational institution is being conducted.” Facilities will be able to ban guns in “patient care areas” and set rules barring weapons in sensitive areas.

When it comes to health clinics, the loophole is proving the facility is an extension of the hospital. Since hospitals are gun-free zones, a health clinic or outpatient facility can be proven to be an extension of the hospital and covered under the same laws.

Don McBeath, Director of Government Affairs for the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, said “the issue comes down to the location and licensing. If a clinic is operated on the hospital grounds and is included in its license agreements with the state, then guns can be banned there. If it is across the town or even across the street, a hospital and clinic could be fined for attempting to ban license holders from carrying handguns”.

The Great Debate:

Open carry supporters argue that open carry is legal in 44 other states, so why not Texas? Plus, only 3% of the state’s population have a license to carry. The law is not designed to increase the number of gun carrying citizens, it will only affect the way firearms are carried. However, not all gun owners are in favor of the new laws. Some say they will not take advantage of the new carry law, stating it seems too reminiscent of the Wild West.

Opponents say police may find it more difficult to spot criminals. Dallas police advise that citizens call 911 ONLY when encountering a person who is in clear violation of the law.

One unexpected reaction to the law is many businesses that previously allowed concealed carry, no longer allow any carry at all. The main contribution to this change is the fact that they don’t want customers and patrons to be fearful of others who may be visibly carrying.

After several months of the law being in effect, not much has changed other than the way people are physically carrying their guns, so perhaps the reaction to the new legislature is more fear of the unknown.

Instructions for Signage:

Unless listed on the Dallas-Area Businesses Opting Out of Open Carry* List, Businesses wishing to self-impose an open carry ban on their premises are now required to post 18×24 inch signage in both English and in Spanish, with 1-inch lettering.

A “30.06” sign bans concealed carrying on premises, whereas a “30.07” sign bans open carrying. These signs must be placed in public view. One sign does not disregard the other; each is specific and both must be posted if a business wishes to ban concealed carry in addition to open carry.

Post the sign at each entrance to the business, in a place that is clearly visible to the public.

Note that this sign will only keep license holders from openly carrying handguns onto your property. If you wish to prohibit concealed carry of handguns, post 30.06 in the same manner described above.

If you find that the prescribed sign is too large or burdensome to post, you have other options.

You can post a smaller sign of your own design stating that openly carried guns (or, if you wish, guns in general) are prohibited.

This sort of sign will not legally prohibit people from bringing handguns into your establishment—but it will convey your preferred policy to responsible gun owners.

If someone ignores your sign and carries an openly displayed gun into your establishment, you may state that you do not allow guns in your establishment, at which point they will be legally obligated to leave or else they will be guilty of criminal trespassing and it becomes a Class A misdemeanor. If licensor does not have their proper ID while caring a handgun, this could be a felony for the offender.

You can read the text of the open carry law, 2015 HB 910, here.

The January 1st change in the Texas handgun carry law doesn’t mean licensed owners will be able to carry openly everywhere. By law they will be required to conceal their handguns while on college campuses. Furthermore, establishments such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes and many others will remain gun-free zones.