Like a lot of Texans, we here at the Observer have been looking for our first sighting of an openly carried handgun. Some are excited, some worried, but we're all curious. Since January 1, carrying over one's shoulder or on one's hip has been legal, assuming the handgun owner also happens to be a licensed concealed carrier. Here's a list of things that we can all do to get along under the new rules.
1. Don't Freak Out — This is the new reality, and calling the police every time you see a holstered handgun on a hip isn't going to help the Dallas Police Department's response times. The city's put together a handy guide to help you know when to call the police. Essentially, as Justin Sparks — an attorney with Texas Law Shield, a service that provides legal help to gun owners — tells the Observer, open carriers shouldn't take their gun out of its holster unless they intend to use it. If they do, that's when bystanders should call the police.
"If someone is out and about and sees someone open carrying with a gun in their holster, that's fine, it's legal, you know, it is what it is," he says. "The second that gun leaves the holster, then the carrier is violating the law. Maybe they're justified in doing so. Maybe they have to use self defense or something like that [but it's impossible for a bystander to know]."
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2. Remember: You still can't bring a gun into a school. — As Dallas ISD Police Chief Craig Miller made clear in a district video released Wednesday, it's still, just as it was in 2015, illegal to carry a gun onto public elementary, middle or high school property. Dallas ISD schools will now prominently feature so-called 30.07 signs, which make it clear that licensed handgun owners can't bring guns onto a specific property.
3. Or a bar — Like schools, any establishment that makes more than 50 percent of its income from alcohol sales still can't allow handguns on its premises, be those guns openly carried or concealed.
4. Treat Others as You Would Want to Be Treated — Regardless of whether a property owner's 30.07 sign is perfectly sized and perfectly displayed, Sparks suggests that open carriers obey them. Improper signage makes it legal to carry a handgun onto property, but Sparks says that carriers should fight the bad signs by reporting them, not by carrying against a property owner's wishes. "I would challenge it, but I would not challenge it by taking the gun in there," Sparks says.
5. Protect Yourself — "If somebody is going to commit a bad act and they have a gun, the person that they're going to shoot first is the other person with a gun. Every cop I've spoken with and the ones that I'm friends with have said the same thing. That's always their biggest fear," Sparks says.
6. Get a Permit — Texas did not, counter to some of the statements in the pro-gun community, become a constitutional carry state on January 1. If you want to carry your gun openly, you need to have your concealed handgun license. If you come in contact with law enforcement, they can ask you for that license, although there's no penalty for refusing to show it to them.
"The police can stop you and ask for your license," Sparks says. "What's funny about that is the Legislature failed to add a punishment for not showing your license. It is not a crime to refuse to give your license. Here's the net effect of that in real life: Say an officer comes up to me while I'm open carrying and asks for my license and I say, 'No, I don't have to give it you.' He can then say, 'I don't see that you're a license holder, so you're unlawfully carrying a weapon and I'm going to arrest you for that.' You might be able to beat the charge, but you'll have to take a ride."
7. Keep It Classy — Longtime former State Representative and State Senator Carl Parker suggested in October that Texas needs an Emily Post for open carry. "I told everybody I was really considering getting a two-gun, pearl-handled double hip holster and just wearing it around like Hopalong Cassidy," he says.
Parker decided against that, he says, because his friends said it would be a little gauche. "The only thing that concerns me is that, when you have more guns out there, there are just some people that are so macho that they're looking for a reason to use it," Parker says.
8. Be Extra Careful on the Road — Having easier access makes people more likely to do things like wave a gun around in traffic, Parker says. "If you drive through Houston, used to you'd just shoot the bird and now you just shoot them," he says.
Sparks says he expects many of the unintended open carry law violations to happen in cars. After getting in to drive, one can't just toss his or her gun in the passenger seat. If you want to open carry, you've got to keep the gun in its belt or shoulder holster. Otherwise the gun must be kept out of plain view — say, in the center console or glove box — same as ever.
9. Get a Decent Holster — As things stand, the term "holster" is undefined in Texas law as it relates to open carry. The law doesn't require any sort of restraint, for now.
"You can literally just have something attached to your belt that's kinda like a pocket for you to put your gun in. Doesn't have to strap down. Doesn't have to have a trigger lock. Nothing like that. It can just be a loose, old western-style hole for your gun to sit in," Sparks says. "Somebody's going to try to test the line, test the limit, see how far they can go with it and we're going to get a definition, but it's going to come from a court. I would say that your holster needs to be attached to your belt somehow, and it should be obvious. Otherwise, you know, you're asking to go test it out in court."
10. Conceal It Anyway — Sparks recommends that anyone wanting to carry should conceal their weapon to avoid this scenario. The biggest benefit of open carry, he says, is protecting handgun owners who would otherwise conceal their guns from catching a charge when their gun peeks out of their jacket or pants. Once the novelty wears off, Sparks expects fewer and fewer people to carry on their hips.
"If you're carrying in Texas, my personal recommendation is to concealed carry every time," Sparks says. "I don't want someone calling the police on me when I'm following the law."