Austin residents are invited to a special town hall meeting Jan. 30 to learn more about the new state open carry gun law that went into effect Jan. 1.

District 1 Council Member Ora Houston helped organize the public forum, which will be hosted at 11:30 a.m. by Rev. B.W. McClendon and St. James Missionary Baptist Church, 3417 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The forum was organized in response to concerns that “people are not fully understanding what the rules are and what their rights are,” according to a spokesperson from Houston’s council office.

An Austin Police Department representative will be among those answering questions from town hall attendees, according to a Houston spokesperson. There will also be a general overview of the new law, HB 910, which allows handguns to be openly holstered by licensed holders—the same state license that previously only allowed concealed carry.

New gun laws in effect in TexasThe rights of small business owners, church congregations and Austin residents will be addressed during the town hall meeting, according to Houston’s office. Private businesses may post signs prohibiting open and concealed handgun carry, or they can provide direct verbal notice to customers.

But some specifics of the new law have been called into question, including whether open carry is permitted on the parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and walkways of public school district property. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, sought clarification from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who responded Dec. 21 by confirming handguns are not allowed on “any grounds or building on which an activity sponsored by a school … is being conducted.”

Other new state gun laws

The opinion was among four clarifications Paxton issued Dec. 21 regarding new state gun laws. The attorney general also responded to Hays County and Tom Green County inquiries related to SB 273, a law that prevents public agencies from prohibiting licensed handgun holders inside city and county government buildings—unless there are court proceedings or public meetings taking place.

Paxton’s opinion confirmed gun-free zones are limited only to those rooms where such court proceedings or public meetings occur. His interpretation of the law was consistent with an opinion issued Oct. 9 by Gov. Greg Abbott’s legal team, as first reported in November by Community Impact Newspaper.

However, city policy still prohibits guns inside Austin City Hall. Public officials argue that governmental meetings, as well as monthly community court proceedings, exempt the building from the new state law, which went into effect Sept. 1.

“The city’s position on guns at City Hall has remained consistent,” a city of Austin spokesperson said in a statement. “It is a criminal offense under Texas state law to possess or carry a weapon, including a handgun carried by a person licensed to carry it, on the premises of a government court or offices used by the court.  Because a part of the city of Austin Municipal Court conducts court proceedings in the Austin City Hall building, and the City maintains an office at City Hall for the chief Municipal Court prosecutor, we believe state law prohibits possessing or carrying a weapon in that building (except by law enforcement personnel).”