If youve never seen someone other than a law enforcement officer carrying a gun out in the open, your chances increased dramatically as of New Years day. For some it may be a jarring experience. For others its an expansion of our freedom to bear arms. For most, however, the situation is bound to be a source of confusion, at least for the time being.
Texas has long allowed licensed handgun carry, but has mandated that the weapon be concealed from view when in public. Proponents of open carry say that this is just an extension of existing laws and moves us closer to a more literal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution giving private citizens the right to bear arms in self defense.
Contained in the new law are a host of stipulations and requirements that can make compliance somewhat open to interpretation. For instance, handguns must be carried “in a shoulder or belt holster” that is “on or about the person.” The law does not specifically define what legally constitutes a belt or shoulder holster, so some have interpreted this as meaning any type of holster that is attached to a belt in some way. Theoretically, this would make carrying a gun in an ankle or thigh holster perfectly legal if tied to a belt somehow. So far, this interpretation is yet to be tested in court.
Many who support the right to carry handguns say open carry takes the concept too far. They maintain that carrying a deadly weapon out in the open constitutes an implied threat. Just a few weeks into the new year, gun rights advocates report that a backlash has already begun. The number of private business owners exercising their right to ban firearms on their premises has increased exponentially.
The law does spell out some very specific rules on the signage a business must post to prohibit firearms on their property, and open carry advocates have announced their intention to challenge any that dont conform to the letter of the law. However, according to one interpretation of the law, a business owner making a verbal request to leave the gun outside must be respected.
Advocates, on the other hand, say open carry will act as a deterrent to violent misconduct, and maintain that attempts to restrict gun ownership and use in any way leads us inevitably down the path to banning guns entirely. They are moving past open carry to push for the concept of “constitutional carry,” or the right to carry without a license, concealed or otherwise. Threat or deterrent, discussion over the issue is not likely to subside any time soon.
Also of concern to many citizens is the impact on law enforcement workload as firearms begin to appear openly at public events. Will reports of suspicious or threatening activity increase as citizens learn to deal with the new reality. Spokespersons from both the police and District Attorneys office say its too early to tell at this point. Police will continue to respond as usual to reported threats to public safety, and the DAs office will deal with cases brought to them by law enforcement, again as usual. Neither office expects a significant surge in activity due to open carry.
Where does this place our state in terms of gun legislation? According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, this is currently what one can expect when carrying a gun outside Texas:
- Dont allow open carry at all: California, Illinois, New York, South Carolina, Florida, Washington, D.C.
- Allow open carry with a permit: Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, Utah, Connecticut
- All other states allow open carry with no permit.
- Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont allow concealed carry without any permit.
Gun advocates strongly advise citizens to become familiar with the laws pertaining to firearms, and to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to handle them safely and competently. Lives could depend on it.
Written by Bob Lewis
Photo Caption: In a Friday, Jan. 1, 2016 photo, Terry Holcomb, Executive Director of Texas Carry happily displays his customized holster as he walks to the Capitol for a rally. Open Carry Texas and Texas Carry held a rally on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin to celebrate Texas becoming an open carry state. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)