A new Texas law that went into effect January 1, 2016 now allows licensed gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public. Although more than 40 states allow some form of open carry, Texas is now the most populous state to do so, with 925,000 men and women holding active state-issued gun licenses. Only those with concealed-handgun permits are allowed to openly carry weapons, and all must submit their fingerprints and pass a criminal background check.
Open carry means that guns can be worn in holsters on hips or in shoulder holsters. Texans do not need a state license to buy a handgun, but must meet federal qualifications. An age requirement of 21, completed training course, and examination are necessary to carry a weapon outside of a residence.
Supporters say that openly displayed weapons will help deter potential criminals, while opponents argue that there is no evidence that open carry states are safer, and that police officers will have trouble identifying criminals and bystanders.
“What we proved is that the sight of a firearm is not something to fear in the hands of law-abiding citizens,” C. J. Grisham, a retired Army sergeant who formed Open Carry Texas in 2013, said.
Businesses can ban open-carry on their property, but must post signs at entrances. Typical Texas businesses Whataburger, Whole Foods, Torchy’s Tacos, and HEB have banned open carry so far. Both concealed and unconcealed handguns are still banned in certain places under Texas law, including sporting events, amusement parks, bars, schools, courts, governmental meetings, and places of worship.
Although the law does provide more freedom as far as gun control, even adamant supporters admit it will probably not change much.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a major change,” State Representative Larry Phillips, the author of the law, said. “Most people I talk to say they’re going to conceal carry.”
Law enforcement agencies prepared for the day the law would go into effect, releasing PSAs and training their officers on proper protocol.
Tim Vasquez, a chief of police in San Angelo, said officials were expecting a “huge learning curve” in enforcing the law.
“Most of us do support concealed, but we also understand that open carry creates a whole new set of problems,” Chief Vasquez said. “If our officers see someone with an open carry, they do have the ability to stop and identify whether that person is permitted or not.”
Many Texas public officials celebrated the law going into effect, condemning those who oppose it or argue it will lead to less safety, especially in light of the numerous mass shootings in America.
“This is just propaganda by those who either don’t like guns or who are afraid of guns,” Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said. “I respect some people don’t like them, but don’t stop us who love guns, who love the Second Amendment, from being able to protect ourselves, our families, our businesses and our friends.”
The law comes at a time when the gun control debate is heating up, with President Obama delivering a tearful speech about the necessity of stricter gun control on January 6. He plans to unveil a series of executive orders intended to reduce gun violence.
“We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence,” he said.