By Katie Urbaszewski
After hours of Capitol testimony, passionate floor debates and deadline-beating votes in the Legislature, the state's new "open carry" gun law takes effect on the first day of 2016. You have questions. We have answers.
Who can open carry?
The roughly 826,000 adults with a Texas concealed handgun license, which will now be known as a license to carry, or with a permit from 42 states where such licenses are recognized by Texas -- excluding Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin. Rifles and other "long guns" remain legal to carry in public.
How should guns be carried?
Handguns must be in a belt or shoulder holster. The law does not require retention holsters, which use straps or other methods to better secure the weapon.
Will training change?
Classes for new applicants will include training on retention holsters and other methods to secure holstered handguns. Those who already have a concealed handgun license do not need additional training.
Can guns be openly carried anywhere?
No. Businesses can prohibit guns if they display approved signs. Separate signs must be posted to ban concealed and open carry.
The "campus carry" law that goes into effect Aug. 1 for public universities (and Aug. 1, 2017 for public junior and community colleges) will allow permit holders to carry only concealed handguns on campus and into buildings.
Places where guns remain prohibited include court buildings, jails, polling places, schools, racetracks, secure areas of airports and bars. Guns also are banned in hospitals, nursing homes, churches and amusement parks that display appropriate "no guns" signs.
What do supporters say?
Open carry, available only to those who pass a background check and training process for a license, is another way to allow law-abiding Texans to protect themselves. The practice provides faster access to weapons, while visible guns could provide a valuable criminal deterrent. Forty-four other states, including liberal bastions such as Massachusetts and Oregon, allow some form of open carry without problem. Some gun owners welcomed the ability to wear holsters that did not have to be covered by a jacket during hot weather.
What do opponents say?
Instead of improving safety, open carry will create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, straining law enforcement resources as police are forced to respond to reports of armed individuals. A February survey found most of the state's police chiefs opposed the policy, saying it could endanger law officers and make it difficult to distinguish criminals from innocent bystanders. Some feared open guns could be more easily taken, while others pressed to restrict open carry to rural areas, saying other states wisely ban the practice in major cities.
Are police prepared?
Most laws passed in the 2015 legislative session took effect Sept. 1, but open carry was given a four-month delay at the Department of Public Safety's request to better prepare law officers for the change.
Andy Michael, the Austin police commander over training, said officers were given a general reminder of the new law and its requirements, while operators who answer 911 calls were trained to ask additional questions when receiving reports about armed individuals.
"We expect many people may call in just being alarmed. Our call takers are going to be trained to advise people about the new law, then inquire if the person is doing anything suspicious or if they're around a critical facility or school," Michael said. "We will still respond if requested, but we're hopeful some, when told about the new law, may be satisfied with that."
Can police check those with holstered guns for licenses?
The most contentious part of the open carry debate at the Capitol was an amendment added, and later deleted, that would have barred police from detaining those with a holstered gun solely to check for a license to carry.
Supporters said the amendment would protect gun owners from police interference while acting legally, but police leaders strongly opposed the addition, arguing that it would allow felons to carry weapons with impunity and make it difficult for police to do their jobs.
Legislators on both sides of the debate said police would still need reasonable cause to stop gun owners who are otherwise acting legally by openly carrying a weapon.
(c)2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas