New open carry laws now in effect

New open carry laws now in effectAs of Jan. 1, concealed handgun license holders  statewide are no longer required to carry their handguns out of sight.

Texas lawmakers decided in the 2015 legislative session that handgun license holders should be allowed to carry a handgun concealed or openly in a shoulder holster or belt holster in public or into any business unless a sign prohibiting open or concealed carry is posted.

License holders still cannot carry guns either openly or concealed on school district properties during school functions nor in courtrooms, secure airport areas, polling places or any business that receives at least 51 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales.

The new law also prohibits open or concealed carry on college campuses—at least until Aug. 1 when a controversial new law allows concealed carry on higher education campuses.

McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley said the effects of the new laws have yet to be seen.

“There was a lot of talk about it out in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex so everybody knew that it was coming, but no one knew exactly what to anticipate,” Conley said. “Every time we have new laws we have to prepare to handle it. Predicting the outcome of that is not always easy to do, especially with something like open carry when people are on differing sides of an issue, but it is the law and we were prepared to handle it.”

Conley said his department prepared information for residents and business owners, trained officers to handle questions and concerns, and developed a procedure for any phone calls from residents. As of mid-January, the department had not received any calls regarding the new open-carry laws.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised that it is less of an issue than what was expected,” he said. “But I do think we were surprised that we didn’t have a single call.”

Any time there is a new law, Conley said, officers have to know about and understand the parameters. With open carry now allowed, questions from officers have surfaced regarding when they can ask to see a handgun license, Conley said.

“We encourage our officers to only ask if there is reasonable suspicion that some criminal activity is afoot,” he said. “Then I think we have a basis for doing it. But people are allowed to open carry. So yes, we can see you open-carrying and ask for a license, but that’s not something we will likely do unless there is some behavior that does not align with the law.”

License requirements

Payton Brooks, owner of Four Seasons Training, which offers  Texas License to Carry and introductory handgun classes, said it is unlikely residents will see a large number of individuals participating in open carry within the city.

“The reality is people were afraid they would see guns everywhere they look, but that’s not going to happen,” he said. “Most of the concealed-carry folks, or the folks that come through to obtain a license to carry, are very conservative folks. They aren’t going to strap a gun on their belt and go walking around Wal-Mart trying to show people. I haven’t seen anybody open-carrying since Jan. 1.”

Brooks said the process of obtaining a license is not easy. First, he said, in-class instruction lasts between four and six hours.

Topics covered in the course include the laws that relate to weapons and to the use of deadly force; handgun use, proficiency and safety including use of restraint holsters and methods to ensure the secure carrying of an openly carried handgun; nonviolent dispute resolution; and proper storage practices for handguns, including storage practices that eliminate the possibility of accidental injury to a child.

A written test is required, and range qualifications are also tested. Lastly, Brooks said the student must submit an online application to the state, get fingerprinted and pass a background check before a license is granted.

“These folks who get a license to carry don’t have any A or B misdemeanors, felonies, and they aren’t late on child support payments. They really check you out,” he said. “So the people who have these licenses are the cream of the crop of our society. …They are trained, responsible citizens who understand the laws.”

Gun laws on city property

In McKinney the new laws prompted a change to City Council meetings when the decision to allow concealed carry, open carry or prohibit handguns at City Hall found its way to the council during a Dec. 21 council work session.

The result was a decision to allow only concealed carry in council chambers, thus allowing open carry throughout the rest of the building. Beforehand, only concealed carry was allowed inside the building and no handguns were allowed inside council chambers.

“The consensus of the council was that we want our citizens to be encouraged to speak on public hearing items and do not want anyone attending a meeting to feel uncomfortable by the presence of guns in the council chambers,” Mayor Brian Loughmiller said.

Loughmiller said the council as a whole did not express any reservations or concerns over the passage of open-carry legislation by the state.

“The discussion centered exclusively on the conducting of city business at City Council meetings and the policies that would best ensure public participation during council meetings where oftentimes the issues are not necessarily agreed upon by the general public,” he said.

New open carry laws now in effect
Gun laws on county property

At the county level, wording of the new laws left  gray areas regarding where and when a person can openly carry a firearm.

In December, Attorney General Ken Paxton provided an opinion that stated if a building has other offices in addition to courtrooms, those areas should not prohibit open or concealed carry. Such is the case for the Jack Hatchell Administration Building, where Collin County commissioners hold weekly court meetings.

“There will be some changes,” said Commissioner Chris Hill, whose precinct includes the city of McKinney. “As a matter of principle, we want to make sure we do everything we can to extend
license holders every liberty we can while balancing public safety and the laws that dictate where guns are not allowed.”

Hill said the court has followed Paxton’s advice when deciding where guns may be carried in the administration building.

The first floor houses a courtroom, and open carry will be prohibited there. Open carry is allowed on the other three floors.

“Commissioners Court meetings will be governed by a different statute that says when Commissioners Court is in session, the room is restricted,” he said. “The rule has always been that license holders could not carry in a courtroom or on the premises of a courtroom. The attorney general has clarified the language of what ‘premises’ means.”

Collin County Sheriff Terry Box, who was a proponent of open carry, said all carry is prohibited at the Collin County Courthouse.

“That building was designed strictly for courts and offices that feed the courts, so we thought it was best to not allow any kind of weapons into the building,” he said. “The only place that could have potentially allowed open or concealed carry was the hallways, but the amount of funding it would take for all of the additional security measurements required—and costs associated with those—was just not worth it.”

Hill said he has seen one person in public participating in open carry since the new laws have come into effect, adding that the concerns about the new laws seem to be uncalled for.

“The citizens that are responsible with their gun ownership, who take the time to get licensed and follow the rules, don’t concern me at all,” he said. “The Constitution says we can arm and protect ourselves. There is always a concern in society about those who misuse guns, but in those situations, they aren’t going to pay attention to the signs on the wall. We are all too familiar that there are bad people in our community that want to do harm to other people, and we have to do what we can to protect ourselves.”