Permitless Carry Becomes Legal In Texas Next Week. Here’s What You Need To Know
More than 650 new Texas laws officially take effect at the beginning of next month. Leading up to September 1, public radio reporters across the state are exploring the most high profile and consequential of these new laws, and explaining how they'll change the future of Texas. Read more stories here.
Texans have had the right to carry a gun in public since 1995, when then-Gov. George W. Bush signed concealed carry into law.
More gun-friendly legislation followed over the years. In 2007, the Texas Motorist Protection Act made it legal for people without a handgun license to keep a firearm in their vehicle. The state Legislature authorized guns on state university campuses and open carry in 2015. But you still needed to obtain a license to be able to take your gun outside your home or vehicle.
That's no longer the case come Sept. 1 after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1927, which allows anyone who can legally own a firearm to carry it – in a holster – in public, for the first time since Reconstruction.
Texas joins 19 other states with what supporters call "constitutional carry" laws
"You could say that I signed into law today some laws that protect gun rights," Gov. Greg Abbott said at the June bill signing. "But today I signed documents that instilled freedom in the Lone Star State."
Texas’ law doesn't change eligibility for gun ownership. Like anyone who wants to own a handgun in Texas, you must be at least 21 years old and can not have served a sentence for a felony or family violence within the last five years.
The new law also adds some other misdemeanors to the list for those who want to carry, including assault causing bodily injury, deadly conduct, terroristic threat, and disorderly conduct with a firearm.
When you buy a gun from a licensed dealer, you must go through a background check, although that is not required for private gun sales in Texas.
Permitless carry remains controversial. While Republicans, for the first time, were largely united in support of the bill, it was opposed by gun safety advocates, law enforcement and vocal firearm instructors.
Nearly six in 10 Texas voters polled by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune in April opposed permitless carry.
"I think it will mean more handguns in public," said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. "And data show us time after time after time that guns don't make us safer."
Switzer was also worried about a lack of training for armed people, which could make threatening situations more dangerous and lead to more stolen weapons. Data suggests an increase in guns stolen from vehicles in some states after passing laws making it easier to have firearms in cars.
The elimination of training requirements worries some in law enforcement. In license-to-carry classes, applicants learn basic gun laws, conflict resolution, and proper firearm storage, and have to demonstrate basic shooting proficiency.
Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, said officers receive hundreds of hours of weapons training, and accidents still happen.
"We want our citizens be properly trained and at least know what they can and can not do with that weapon," he said. "There's certain things that you do as a citizen just by brandishing that weapon that can cause you to be charged criminally."
Griffith said another concern is that the law makes it more difficult for police to differentiate between a "good guy with a gun," and someone who may have bad intentions.
The new law does allow officers to ask someone about their guns if there's a reasonable suspicion or a call for service. But it limits how police can interact in other ways, Griffith said.
"As far as just randomly walking around (and saying), ‘Hey, do you have a reason to have that?' – no, we can't do that," Griffith said.
To Charles Cotton, first vice president at the National Rifle Association, which lobbied for permitless carry in Texas and other states, those fears are overblown. To Cotton, the new law simply gives Texans a right granted by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Still, he said, everyone who wants to carry a gun should get training.
"I don't want you to survive the attack on your life but not the legal aftermath," he said. "So yes, I think they should learn the law and they should learn not only how to make a gun go off but how to actually use a gun in self-defense, and those are two different things."
Cotton, a firearm instructor himself, also encourages gun owners to get a license to carry anyway – not just because of the learning experience, but also because the license is good in other states that have reciprocity with Texas.
Plus, gun buyers can skip a background check if they have a license to carry, and get to carry in some places that those without a permit can't. That includes university campuses and governmental meetings, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, along with any private business that chooses to prohibit the unlicensed carrying of guns – and has room for more no-gun signs.
Until now, businesses that don't want handguns on their premises have had to post at least two signs, in both English and Spanish: one for concealed carry and one for open carry.
Starting Sept. 1, they will have to post a third sign to exclude unlicensed carry.
What's unclear is how many gun owners will take advantage of this new freedom. Michael Cavanaugh, criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, thinks there may be an increase in people carrying at first, but that that the number will go down eventually, similar to what saw after campus carry went into effect in 2015.
"It's one of those things that it's shiny and new and people want to do it at first," he said. "Carrying a gun is not the most comfortable thing, especially if you do it every day. You have to sit down in a chair and you have to sit down in your car and you have to make sure it's locked away in your car."
There is little data from other states to glean whether permitless carry will impact the number of shootings or crimes in Texas.
But for Gyl Switzer with Texas Gun Sense, anecdotes matter too.
"Even one loss is a problem," she said, "if it's related to a policy decision that was voted on and supported by our elected leadership."