Open carry law in effect as of Jan. 1

Open carry law in effect as of Jan. 1 New gun laws[/caption]

Several new state gun laws have gone or will soon go into effect.

Most notably, handgun license holders can openly carry firearms as of Jan. 1, and concealed carry will be allowed on university campuses starting
Aug. 1. Also, seven new laws, including one that potentially allows guns inside city hall buildings in the area, are already official.

The laws were passed during the 2015 legislative session in what state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, called “an effort to show how pro-gun you can be.”

“I don’t think it’s just about gun rights. I just think the argument gets cloaked in that,” said Watson, a concealed handgun license holder who opposes open carry. “We want to make sure everybody’s rights are protected, but we want to do it in a way that’s reasonable, rational and takes into account public safety.”

Efforts to educate

In Round Rock, the police department has released educational material such as a frequently asked questions Web page and a video outlining important information in the new law.

“With a law like this, it’s likely lots of people won’t know it’s coming,” said Commander Jim Stuart of the Round Rock Police Department. “It’s a little different from concealed carry; we feel it’s been important to educate people on what they may see happen.”

Stuart said the department has only had one call from a citizen concerned about someone openly carrying a firearm since the law went into effect.

“It’s been a non-issue,” he said.

Stuart said the department is working to educate business owners as well about what they might see now that the law is in effect.

Stuart said businesses that do not want customers to openly carry firearms need to apply a new sign known as the 30.07 sign, as detailed in the law. Under the law, he said, the 30.06 sign prohibits the concealed carrying of firearms. He said a business owner or manager can ask a customer who is openly carrying a firearm to leave and that will be sufficient.

The Pflugerville Police Department has also posted information online, such as an educational video.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there are 825,957 license holders as of Dec. 31, 2014. The vast majority of those licensees comply with the law, said John Lacaria, owner of Texas Firearm Academy in Austin.

“I think most companies realize you can stop license holders from coming in, but all the signs in the world aren’t going to stop a criminal from coming in,” Lacaria said.

Know the rules

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.”

Outside of schools, most establishments are required to post signs if they do not wish to allow concealed carry, open carry or both, according to Michael Cargill, owner and instructor of Central Texas Gun Works.

Texas Restaurant Association spokesperson Wendy Woodland said more than 100 restaurant owners attended a November webinar detailing open-carry laws. Any establishment that draws more than half its business from alcohol sales must automatically ban firearms, Woodland said.

H-E-B permits concealed carry, but the Texas-based grocer is not permitting open handgun carry, spokesperson Leslie Lockett said.

Policing public property

Round Rock City Attorney Steve Sheets said under the law one cannot carry a firearm in a court. He said the law is ambiguous as to whether that pertains to the whole building or the rooms that house the court. The city of Round Rock’s McConico Building houses the municipal court, but it also contains city offices for parks and recreation as well as development services.

Sheets said Gov. Greg Abbott’s opinion states the law applies only to the rooms in which the court is housed, but other attorneys do not share that opinion.

“It may be subject to a court decision, or the Legislature may clarify it in the next session,” Sheets said.

He said in the meantime, the city has not taken any efforts to prohibit handguns in other city facilities, such as open meetings or City Hall.

As a result, Sheets said under the law, events sponsored by educational institutions at the city-owned Round Rock Sports Center would not prohibit the open carrying of firearms.

Terri Toledo, Pflugerville’s public information officer, said in an e-mail that City Council will prohibit the open carrying of firearms in council meetings when in session. She said the Pflugerville Justice Center is also going to display the 30.06 and 30.07 signs prohibiting open carry.

Christina Kane-Gibson, Hutto public information officer, said the city will prohibit open carrying in court and at meetings such as City Council or boards and commissions.

Starting in August, Texas State University campuses must begin allowing concealed carry. Texas State held a series of public forums in January and early February to further gather campus and community input on open carry recommendations for a task force the university assembled in September.

Austin Community College must follow suit and allow concealed carry starting Aug. 1, 2017, but no official policy changes have been announced.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.