Monday, January 11, 2016

What You Must Do to Opt-Out of Texas' New Open Carry Handgun Law

by Nomad

Not everybody in Texas is overjoyed about the idea of the open carry gun laws that came into effect on 1 January. There's a way to opt-out but the rules are very specific.  

Since the start of the year, Texas' new open carry handgun law has been in effect. From now on, people with proper registration can openly carry their firearms. In the past, the law required firearms be concealed.

There are, we are told, an astounding 12.8 registered firearms per 1,000 residents.The last time people of the Lone Star state were allowed such open carry privileges was 140 years ago- back in the good old Wild West days when rootin' tootin' cowboys engaged in shootouts in public streets.

When it comes to such laws, Texas is not alone. It's actually the 45th state to allow open carry in some form. (Shockingly, thirty states do not require the carrier to have a license.)
In terms of sheer population, Texas (population roughly 27 million) is the most populous in the nation now allowing for open carry. 

The new law allows nearly 1 million gun-licensed Texans to publicly display their holstered handguns, as long as they have a permit and they have passed a safety course.
One website for the national gun safety course says, "It doesn’t hurt to learn the basics." True that. It hurts less than, say, accidentally shooting yourself in the eye.

Supporters said high visibility would enhance public safety by discouraging the criminal element. This idea has been given a lot of press and promoted by NRA sponsored legislators. However, even gun rights activists acknowledge that the "data doesn't necessarily reflect a correlation between allowing open carry and fewer instances of violent crime." 

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research told Politi-Fact:
"The best available evidence suggests that right to carry concealed laws are associated with increases in aggravated assaults with guns, but have no measurable effect on population rates of murder and robbery."
Not everybody was happy with the idea, including home and business owners. Many people feel that openly displayed guns could be used to intimidate those who do not carry or possess weapons.
Intimidation is, some suspect, what this is all about.

In the Absence of Wisdom and Prudence

Police officers who put their lives on the line every day are already pondering the full implications of the law. Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association
“If a citizen calls in, a business calls in, and says there is someone here carrying a firearm that we’re concerned about -- the question then becomes exactly how much authority does that officer have to approach that individual and investigate whether or not they have a license to carry that gun?”
Lawrence says that, though he is not an opponent of the law, believes that the wording of the law when it comes to checking licenses is "very vague and leaves officers exposed."

It really makes no sense at a time when law enforcement officers feel threatened enough by a black child with a toy gun to shoot him in the street. 

One nonprofit gun violence prevention organization, Texas Gun Sense points out that almost 3,000 gun-related deaths occur in Texas each year. They also note that according to 2014 data, states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership have the lowest rates of gun deaths. Texas, the group believes, has taken a step in the wrong direction and will pay a price for it.

Questions, Problems, and Risks

Nearly immediately, other critics saw quite a few problems and quite a few questions. As one news source pointed out, the Austin State Hospital was forced to take down its "no guns" signs.  Guns  can no longer be forbidden on hospital or other public premises. according to the Department of State Health, the policy change now affects 10 mental health facilities. Until this year, firearms were banned at the state-run facilities, which house people with serious mental illnesses. 

There were similar questions about the wisdom of the open carry policy on college campuses. When a University of Texas panel recommended banning guns in dormitories, the state's attorney general informed the policy  such a policy would now violate the new law. 
As of September 1, 2016, all public four-year universities will be mandated to allow concealed carry in buildings. 

Although universities will technically be allowed to designate certain areas as Gun Free Zones on campus, any deviation to the law will be "subject to legislative analysis." So universities could be under threat of legal action if they attempt to implement gun-free zones on campus. 
That risk of legal complication could be intimidating to a lot of universities, especially smaller ones. They may simply wish to avoid a lawsuit by the state prosecutor and give up on the idea of gun-free zones altogether.

None of that makes much sense. Two of the exceptions to the Open Carry law state that open carry do NOT apply "on the premises of an institution or higher education or private or independent institution of higher education." 

It goes further and prohibits open carry "on any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage or other parking areas of an institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education." 
In spite of that, the state's attorney general apparently doesn't think the exceptions apply to public universities.

At present, it seems, as if gun possession in elementary and middle schools is still restricted, but even that is unclear. Concealed carry in a school may be a felony under TPC section 46.03.
However, now that weapons can be carried openly, it is also unclear whether that will change. 

Intimidation of the Unarmed?

What about voting stations during election time? Will open carry be allowed there too?  
Prior to the new law, it was considered a felony to carry a weapon- licensed or not- inside "a building being used as a polling center for any municipal, state and/or federal elections process on the scheduled voting date or while polling is underway."

How do Texas legislators and law enforcement plan to ensure that violations at every voting center will not occur now? Imagine the possibilities of intimidation of minority voters who could encounter groups of armed "volunteer voting monitors" outside of key voting offices.  

How will the new law affect government offices? Federal statutes which prohibit weapons in such places as post offices, Federal courts, and offices of the IRS, FBI, Justice Department, Department of Energy, USDA, FDA, etc supersede State law.
When state and federal laws conflict on gun laws, which one takes precedence?
Such needless confusion. Such opportunities for mischief.

Signs of the Times

So what a law-abiding but non-gun loving person to do? 
In order to bar people who openly carry weapons from entering your home or place of business, Texans must now post two signs at each entrance, one in English and one in Spanish. (Other languages like Arabic, Farsi or Urdu were not mentioned)

The first sign ("30.06 sign,") is related to ­concealed handguns and the second sign ("30.07 sign") deals with openly carried handguns.

In addition, the signs must be in high contrast black and white with block letters, at least, one inch in size. They must be as conspicuous to the public as possible.

According to this exemption, it is the sole responsibility of the home- or business owner to ask those who have violated the notice to vacate the premises. 
Good luck with that.
Sounds like a good way to start a lethal argument.

According to the open carry handgun law, it is a Class C misdemeanor, the least serious class under Texas law, to carry an open or concealed weapon on private property. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $500 but there is no jail time for a class C misdemeanor. Should the offender ignore the verbal warnings and the signs, the violation will increase to a Class A misdemeanor.
In Texas, class A misdemeanors are generally punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both jail time and a fine.

Of course, people have been shot for far less in Texas.

The Texas authorities have felt no need to supply the opt-out signs, so the Austin Chronicle has kindly offered a free downloadable PDF file of the signs for convenient printing on two 11x17 sheets of paper.
As a courtesy to my friends in Texas, this site is doing likewise. Download the PDFs.

In addition, the Chronicle has compiled a list of businesses which have announced they will opt-out of the open-carry law.
The list will no doubt continue to grow. 

Alamo Drafthouse
AMC Theaters
Amy's Ice Creams
The Austin Chronicle
Barnes & Noble
Buffalo Wild Wings
Central Market
Chuck E. Cheese
Cinemark Theaters
ColdTowne Theater
Counter Culture
Fairview B&B
Fifth Dimension Books
Foreign & Domestic
Franklin Barbecue
Freebirds World Burrito
Fresh Plus Grocery
Fuzzy's Taco Shop
Galaxy Cafe
Ground Floor Theatre
Half Price Books
Hyde Park Theatre
Jack Allen's Kitchen
Jack in the Box
Kerbey Lane Cafe
Lucky's Puccias & Pizzeria
Matt's El Rancho
P. Terry's
Qdoba Mexican Grill
Q Toys
Quack's Bakery
Ruby's BBQ
Regal Entertainment Group

South by Southwest
Taco Cabana
ThunderCloud Subs
Top Notch
Torchy's Tacos
Texas French Bread
Uchi Restaurants
Violet Crown Cinema
Wheatsville Co-op
Whole Foods