New gun laws in Texas

In 2016, for the first time in almost 20 years, two new laws restoring some of our God given rights of self-defense will become effective. The 84th legislature passed and Governor Abbott signed into law Texas House Bill 910, which will allow for the open carry of handguns and Texas Senate Bill 11 which will allow for limited carry of concealed handguns on college campuses.

In the middle of all the mis-information and controversy surrounding changes in the Texas law legalizing open carry, it is easy for the facts and truth of the scope of these two bills to get lost.  After the hard work of many legislators in the Texas House and Senate, who acted on the will of the people of Texas, I want to make sure everyone understands the facts about the individual rights and responsibilities encompassed within the changes to carrying handguns in Texas by these two new laws.

First, I will address some of the misconceptions associated with these two bills.  Neither of the bills make any changes to the current law governing eligibility to carry a handgun in a public place. No one may carry (open or concealed) unless they have a Concealed Handgun License (CHL).  Current holders of a CHL will be eligible to choose to either open or conceal carry.  If the gun is partially or wholly visible, the handgun must be in a shoulder or belt holster.  Anyone who does not currently have a CHL and wants to open carry must first obtain a CHL. Neither of the two new laws reduce the requirements for eligibility or the process to obtain a license; background checks, training, fingerprints, etc. remain the same for everyone.

Each bill stands on its own merit and each addresses separate rights. I will describe each bill separately. 

First, the “Open Carry” bill, Texas House Bill 910 (HB 910).  This bill simply allows an individual with a CHL, to open carry a handgun anywhere that concealed carry is allowed. The handgun must be in either a belt or shoulder holster. 

It is important to note that someone who is engaged in a legal activity, that requires a license, may not be stopped by a police officer for the sole purpose of verifying a valid license for that activity.  This point was the specific subject of much discussion during the debate on the House and Senate floors.  Those discussions made it abundantly clear that it was the intent of the legislature that a law enforcement officer could not require a person to produce a license for that officer solely because the person was engaged in carrying an open handgun.  There has to be “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” of an “illegal” activity.  This is consistent with current law and multiple court decisions (Delaware vs. Prouse; Northrup vs. Toledo Police Dept).  For example, a police officer cannot stop a person driving an automobile solely for the purpose of checking to see if they have a driver’s license; there must be a “probable cause” reason such as erratic driving, a broken tail light, or an improper signal, etc. 

A license check by a law enforcement officer should only be made when there is “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity and when“open carrying” of a handgun is not in and of itself an illegal activity.

The open carry law does not mean that licensed handgun owners will be able to carry openly everywhere.  Some restrictions will remain in effect regardless of whether the handgun is holstered, for example, on the premises of an institution of higher education.  Before this campus carry bill (SB11), college campuses were considered "gun free zones".  Also, open carry is not permitted by an individual who is acting as a personal protection officer under Chapter 1702, Occupations Code and is not wearing a uniform.

In addition to protecting our 2nd Amendment right of self-defense, the conservative voices in the Texas legislature were quick to safeguard the rights of private property owners as well.  As a result, private business owners can choose to restrict concealed and openly carried weapons within the perimeter of their businesses.  Business owners who do not want handguns carried in their place of business can display a sign as described in Texas penal code section 30.06 (Concealed Handgun Carry), and/or the new section 30.07 (Open Handgun Carry).

Many states allow open carry without a license. However, for now, Texas will still require a handgun carrier to obtain a license.

The new open carry law goes into effect on January 1, 2016. 

Secondly, Texas Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) will allow licensed handgun owners to conceal carry on a Texas public college and university campus.  Private colleges and universities will be allowed to opt out of this new law.  If a private institution chooses to do so it may continue to deny students, faculty, and campus visitors the right to defend themselves while on their campus.  Of course, students who want the right to defend themselves are free to choose another institution to attend.  This bill will go into effect on August 1, 2016 for Universities and August 1, 2017 for Junior colleges.  Now I would like to answer two of the most frequent question in regards to “campus carry”.   No, guns will not be sold in the campus bookstore. No, your 17 year old son or daughter will not be allowed to carry a gun; everyone must be at least 21 years of age and have a CHL to carry a gun on campus. 

I believe the defining debate in the near future will be whether a license to carry a handgun is even constitutional in the first place.  I agree with Governor Abbot that it is not constitutional for the state to require a license and I will be supporting responsible "constitutional carry" legislation in the upcoming 85th session. 

In regards to "gun-free zones", I find it incomprehensibly irresponsible that any university leader would oppose the God given right of individuals to defend themselves just because they are on a college campus like the University of Texas.  We should be applauding leaders like Chancellor John Sharp at Texas A&M University who has joined with the rational thinking leaders around Texas in recognizing the importance of personal responsibility and an individual's right to self-defense.  Too many people have died unnecessarily because of "gun-free zones".  If people had been allowed to carry self-defense weapons in all of these instances, many would still be alive today.  The hard truth is, people who establish and support "gun-free zones" are just as responsible for the deaths of those people killed as are the killers.  Bad guys don't obey gun laws, on college campuses or anywhere else.

The 2nd Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is simply man’s validation of our God given right to self-defense. The 2nd Amendment says, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed".  The more we can engrain and strengthen this idea in Texas laws and statutes, the more protected our fundamental liberties will remain.  Recognizing this right was intended by the Framers to protect us from lawless individuals as well as a lawless government.  The 2nd Amendment, which confirms our God given right to self-defense, is a right we must sustain for our children and grandchildren to enjoy the liberties of an independent and free society.