On Jan. 1, 2016, Texas’ new open carry law took effect. The law allows anyone with a proper license to openly carry a handgun “in plain view” anywhere in Texas if properly stored in a shoulder or belt holster. Prior to Jan. 1, Texas only permitted individuals to carry a handgun if it was properly concealed. Many clients have asked us how the new open carry law affects their existing weapons policies and what rights they have to prohibit open carry on their property.
How does the new law work?
Much like Texas’ concealed carry law, the new open carry law gives Texans the right to openly carry handguns—even on private property. Private property owners have a greater right to prohibit the open (and concealed) carrying of handguns on their premises, but only if they take affirmative steps to enforce their right. This is because the law’s default position is that the open carrying of handguns anywhere in Texas is permissible unless expressly prohibited by law (such as on the premises of a business that derives 51% or more of its income from the sale or service of alcoholic beverages) or where license holders are given “effective notice” that the property owner disallows open carry.
“Effective notice” can be in the form of an oral warning or can be written. Providing oral notice to each new employee, customer, or visitor is often impractical, so many business owners choose to provide written notice. But, the open carry law is exceedingly specific about the form of the written notice. If a property owner chooses written notice, it must be in the form of a card, posted sign, or other document (such as a provision in an employee handbook) and must use this exact language:
“Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly.”
The law also states that if the notice is posted, it must be posted in a conspicuous manner, clearly visible to the public, and be in both English and Spanish. It must further be posted in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height and be displayed at EACH entrance to the property.
What is the practical impact?
With so many specific requirements, it can be a challenge to protect your rights. If you are a business owner worried about handguns being openly carried on your property, you should take the following steps:
1. Understand that, if you do nothing, open carry is allowed on your property. Inaction is permission under the law;
2. Consider who you want to prohibit from openly carrying handguns on your property. If you only want to prohibit your employees, a new handbook policy might be enough. If you also want to prohibit customers and/or the general public, you should consider a written, posted sign that complies with all of the rules above;
3. Review any existing weapons policies you may have in employee handbooks or other printed materials. Many existing policies only prohibit someone from carrying a concealed handgun and are insufficient under Texas law to prohibit open carry. Any such policy will need to be updated; and
4. Review any posted signs currently on your property. A sign prohibiting someone from carrying a concealed handgun on your property does not meet the “effective notice” requirement to prohibit open carry. A second sign which complies with all of the rules listed above will be required.