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What to Expect Now That Texas' Open Carry Law Is In Effect

Michael Tefft/Texas Tribune
Effective tomorrow, Texans with licenses will be able to openly carry handguns in public.

As of today, a new state gun law is in effect: Open carry begins today, meaning that license holders are able to openly carry their weapons.

But, will those license holders who already carry concealed handguns opt to start carrying openly instead? How will Texas police officers know if an individual is brandishing a firearm, or just legally openly carrying? And, what if a business doesn’t want firearms on its premises—can it ban open carry?

KUT's Jennifer Stayton spoke with Austin Police Department Chief of Staff Brian Manley to find out more about what changes the law brings.

If I’m walking down Congress Avenue and I see somebody coming the other direction, and they are legally open carrying a handgun, what am I likely to see? What am I going to encounter?

In the circumstance you described, you’ll see an individual walking down the street, and you’ll see an exposed weapon, like you may often see on a plainclothes police officer with a hip holster, or the shoulder holster, with the straps going across the back and the shoulders with the weapon. And you’ll see something that you may not be used to seeing around Austin, but it is now legal and that’s what it would look like.

What kinds of guns are we talking about here, under this new legislation, what can people open carry?

So the new legislation affects handguns. Whether they’re the old six-shot revolvers or whether they’re the current semiautomatic pistols, this is any type of handgun. This law does not cover nor did it need to cover long guns such as rifles and shotguns, because it’s been legal to carry those openly for decades.

Right now there are certain locations where people cannot conceal carry a weapon. Where can people open carry?

The law will mirror exactly what is in the concealed carry law, in other words anywhere that you would be able to conceal carry you will be able to open carry. Now there are prohibitions on where you can conceal carry, and that will carry over to the open carry, you have restrictions such as higher education institutions, school districts, areas where there are sporting events going on, establishments that derive 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol, bars, things like that, locations where you have government meetings taking place that are subject to the open records act, polling places on days of elections, amusement parks, so there are many things spelled out in the law as far as areas where you cannot carry a weapon even if you are a licensed holder, whether it be concealed or open.

Credit Texas Tribune
A UT-Texas Tribune poll on open carry; 52 percent of Texans surveyed supported the bill at the time.

What about individual businesses or establishments that don’t want firearms on their premises, how is that covered in open carry?

Privately owned businesses will have the ability to restrict armed individuals from coming into their establishment, whether it be concealed or open. You have to have a specific sign hanging in your business with language that is prescribed by law advising license holders that they are not allowed to come into that establishment either concealed or open carrying, so private businesses will retain the right to restrict those individuals from coming in, however they must post signs that are compliant with the law, so that those license holders know that they cannot enter that business.

How is APD planning and preparing for Jan. 1?

We’re making sure that all of our officers have gone through a training seminar that we have put together outlining the parameters of the law so that the officers are aware just as the citizens are becoming aware, the officers are fully aware of all of the components of the law, what is legal, what is not legal, where it’s legal, and then also, the appropriate approach to take when they are dispatched to calls involving individuals that are openly carrying firearms. So again we’re covering the entire spectrum when we train our officers from the legalities to the approach to when they’re dispatched to these type of calls.

What is APD telling its officers about the new approach?

The people that we’re going to see openly carrying weapons Jan. 1 and beyond, to the greatest extent, are going to be the people that are already carrying those same weapons in a concealed manner right now. It’s just the fact that we’re going to be able to see them. And so for our officers, we are just making sure they realize that the mere fact that the individual is carrying a weapon in an exposed manner, is not in and of  itself suspicious, because it is now a legal act. [We’re telling them] to take that into account when they’re dispatched to these calls, along with any information that the caller might have provided to determine if this individual is just someone who is openly carrying, or is this an individual who may be up to other activities that we then need to take a further look into?

And what are some of those circumstances that would warrant a further look?

What is suspicious, and again it’s important as we’re telling our officers in the community, just the fact that someone is carrying a weapon in an open manner is not always going to be suspicious, because that’s now legal. So we would look for other activities. If a citizen called in and said this person was looking into vehicles, looking into a business that was closed, if this individual is hanging around areas that give us a security concern, whether it be elementary, middle or high schools, banks, churches, synagogues, mosques, anything like that that might just raise a level of concern. The activity may still be very legal and appropriate, but the officer will have to make that determination if they’re dispatched to that type of call, as they interact with the individual and talk to them, whether it’s more suspicious based on the observations, or whether it’s just someone who’s openly carrying legally.

Can officers ask to see their license? What does the law say about verifying the validity of that open carry situation?

The bill that finally did come out, get voted on and enacted into law does allow peace officers the authority to check an individual’s license upon request. So if our officers are interacting with someone who is openly carrying, they have the right to request to see that CHL if they believe that’s something that’s necessary. We don’t believe it’s necessary to do it in every case, but they have the authority to do that in individuals that are concealed carry holders, and they understand that through the training they go through that upon request they must show a peace officer their CHL.

How does APD feel about the fact that people will be out there open carrying?

There are a lot of police agencies throughout the state that spoke with the legislature on this bill, different aspects of this bill, I think to a large part the law enforcement community believes that we had a law that was working, concealed carry was allowing those individuals who want to carry a weapon for protection, to do so, and that it was unnecessary to allow them to carry them in the open fashion. That being said, we respond to the legislature’s direction, they have passed this law and we now stand ready to respect the new law and enforce the law as appropriate.

Concealed carry folks who have the permit who might want to open carry, do you think a lot of them are going to want to do it?

Listen: KUT's Audrey McGlinchy speaks with some local license holders about why they will, or won’t, openly carry under the new law.

Credit Texas Tribune
Gov. Abbott signed open carry into law at a Pflugerville shooting range in June.

One of your greatest advantages if you are a CHL holder is the advantage of surprise. It’s the fact that individuals do not know you are carrying, and if you find yourself in a circumstance where something is unfolding in front of you, and you feel the need to react or take some sort of action, you have a few extra seconds on your side because whoever it is that’s committing this act that’s gotten your attention is likely not aware that you’re carrying a weapon. If you’re carrying that in an open fashion, there’s a much higher likelihood that that individual is going to recognize you immediately as someone that may be a threat to them. So I don’t know what the prevalence will be for those folks that are currently carrying concealed that will want to carry in an open manner. But I do think that it’s something that folks should give serious consideration to—that one of the best things you have on your side is time, and you actually have extra time to react if you’re carrying in a concealed capacity, because you’re less likely to have been identified early on by this person as someone who’s a threat to them. 

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