The Texas Senate last night passed a modified version of a House bill that allows for the open carry of handguns in Texas. A review of House Bill 910 reveals that this is achieved in a relatively simple manner – just remove references to “concealed” handguns in most statutes, provide for training specifically in the use of an openly carried handgun as a prerequisite of licensing, prohibit someone acting as personal security from openly carrying, and prohibiting law enforcement from stopping a person solely to determine if they are licensed to openly carry (an amendment passed by the Senate just last night). Otherwise, the rules governing a person openly carrying a handgun in a belt holster or shoulder holster are the same as the rules governing a person carrying a concealed handgun.
At this point, it appears apparent that the Texas House of Representatives are going to agree to the minor changes made by the Texas Senate and that the bill will make its way to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott where it’s expected to be signed. That means that effective September 1, 2015, people licensed to carry concealed firearms will now be allowed to carry those firearms in a belt or shoulder holster in the open. What does this ultimately mean for everyday Texans?
I’m sure there are going to be incidents where police are called due to someone carrying a firearm in the open. Not everyone is going to get the memo that open carry is now legal. The key is ensuring the law enforcement is properly educated and trained on the new legislation.
Some people, however, are speculating that Texas will revert back to the anarchy of the wild west. Is there a basis for such a belief? Well, the problem with such speculation is that Texas is currently only one of SIX U.S. jurisdictions (which includes the District of Columbia) that ban the open carry of handguns. Four additional jurisdictions (Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey) currently have statutes which allow for the issuance of licenses to open carry, but such licenses are rarely issued. Therefore, that means that 40 out of the 51 jurisdictions considered under this review generally allow for the open carry of handguns, either with or without licenses to do so. So what is the result?
When was the last time you heard of the open carry of a handgun specifically referenced as contributing to a shooting death? The reality is that most people that are going to commit a crime with a handgun will carry it concealed, with or without a license to do so. The only concern I have is how this could affect the general deterrence effect of a concealed carry law. Right now, someone who seeks to do harm to a person in Texas has no idea whether that person is carrying a handgun or not. That, in theory, creates a deterrent to crime whether the person is actually carrying a firearm or not. If people who are licensed begin to generally carry openly rather than in a concealed manner, that would reduce the deterrence effect because criminals may not necessarily infer that a person not openly carrying is carrying a handgun in a concealed manner instead.
On the other hand, someone openly carrying a handgun will give themselves a much greater deterrent to someone who would consider doing harm to them. If it’s clear they are carrying a firearm, I doubt that a criminal would be willing to take the chance of taking on that person for a few dollars.
I only hope that the early transitional period doesn’t result in too many incidents where those unaware of the change in law don’t create an unsafe situation due to panic created by the open carry of a handgun. The State of Texas should engage the public in a significant education effort in order to reduce the amount of confusion regarding the new law. I’m sure that we will find, as other states know, that firearms may be openly carried by those properly trained to do so in a manner that is safe and provides a general deterrent to crime.