Or much ado about not much at all.
I have read the lurid stories about the changes in Texas gun laws that went into effect on September 1, 2019. Despite a fair amount of face-palming and eye-rolling, I hadn’t planned to say anything.
Then the editors of Medium decided to add Karyn Quinlan’s “Texas Makes “Open Carry” of Guns Even Easier” to the daily digest.
According to her profile, Ms. Quinlan is a writer, photographer, improv nerd, and malcontent who lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York state.
According to some bizarre standard that I frankly can’t comprehend, this makes her eminently qualified to comment on Texas law.
Unlike the politicians in Albany, legislators in Texas meet once every two years for a total of 90 business days. The laws that went into effect on September first were passed in the 2019 session that ended on May 27th. For those having trouble with the concept (like Ms. Quinlan) that means the laws were enacted 68 days before the murders at the Walmart in El Paso or 97 days before they went into effect.
So, contrary to the clickbait, the Texas Legislature did not rush back into session after either the shooting in El Paso or the weird spree in Odessa and rush through a new law saying that Texans could not be prohibited from putting their guns into rented storage units. Unless the governor calls for a special session, the legislature will not meet again until January 2021.
It’s important to note that Texas and California are the only states entirely situated west of the Mississippi River that require a permit to carry a handgun in public. Every other state either allows open carry without a permit or both open and concealed carry without a permit. [Yes, part of Minnesota is west of the Mississippi; that’s why I said “entirely.]
HB121: While it’s not an automatic offense in most states for a person with a concealed carry permit to inadvertently enter a place with a “No Guns” sign (see illustration), it is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas that carries a maximum penalty of a $200 fine.
However, the signage does not have to be in the form of a sign. There are places where there are numerous notices, all in a common size and coloring, on doors or windows and it is possible for someone to overlook the “no guns” sign. The new law is only a defense to prosecution, not some kind of “get out of jail free” card. Even if a person does leave immediately when somebody tells them that guns aren’t allowed, they technically can still be charged with the offense. Incidentally, if the person doesn’t immediately leave, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor which carries a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
HB 302: Texas law, like the laws in every state in the union, allows a person to keep a gun in their place of residence. In fact, the Supreme Court said it was a constitutional right in the Heller decision. The new law says owners of condominiums and apartments can’t prohibit tenants from keeping a handgun in their residence.
HB 1143: The law prohibits school districts from adding additional restrictions on how a handgun is stored inside the vehicle. It applies only to handguns; only to people with a valid Texas License to Carry; and only to handguns stored out of sight in a locked vehicle.This law is mostly for the benefit of school employees.
HB 1177: This is the one that everybody jumped on. The new law allows people who are leaving their homes in compliance with a declared emergency to carry handguns without a permit for up to 168 hours. The intent of the law wasn’t to encourage shootouts along evacuation routes, it was to allow people to bring their handguns with them to emergency shelters in order to avoid leaving them in their homes to be ripe pickings for looters. Yes, just like everywhere else that has natural disasters, Texas has looters who move in as soon as the storm winds die down and the water recedes enough to allow access by boat.
Since Ms. Quinlan obviously doesn’t know jack about Texas or Texas gun laws, she probably didn’t know that Texans have always been allowed to carry rifles and shotguns pretty much anywhere they want. In fact, other than some state liquor laws and Parks & Wildlife regulations, Texas law doesn’t say much of anything at all about rifles and shotguns. They’re not even mentioned in the Texas statute about carrying weapons.
So Texans could always bring their long guns with them if they have to evacuate; they could have their handguns in their cars (as long as they were concealed), but they couldn’t bring the handguns into shelters.
Shelters are perfectly free to require that the handguns be unloaded because the new law says that carrying must be in compliance with shelter rules.
Since we haven’t had armed mobs in any of the past evacuations, I would say I don’t understand why Ms. Quinlan would expect them to start now: Except I know exactly why Ms. Quinlan made her witty comments: she is lying about the new laws in an effort to discredit them — and get clicks.
Since the full texts of every single one of the new laws, including every revision, are easily accessible online, I can’t excuse her viewpoint as simple ignorance. She’s generating clickbait and ethics be damned.
HB 1791: Ah, the “loopholes.” Texas state law preempts all gun laws in the state. The state has exclusive jurisdiction. State law not only requires cities and counties to comply with the state statutes, it imposes fines on city and county governments that don’t. HB 1791 simply addresses some of the workarounds that have been used in an attempt to circumvent the state laws. Incidentally, Ms. Quinlan’s quotation marks around “legal” are pretty juvenile. Of course, her entire article is pretty juvenile.
HB 2362: Ms. Quinlan commits the sin of omission here. The new law allows firearms and ammunition to be stored in the same locked location only if the firearms are stored with a trigger locking device. Otherwise, they must be stored in separate locked locations. Can’t understand how she overlooked that; it’s clearly stated in the text of the enrolled bill.
HB 3231: Remember my comment about HB 1791? It applies here, too. Under Section 229.001 of the Texas Local Government Code, municipalities are prohibited from enacting ordinances that contravene state law. Ms. Quinlan snidely dismisses this by saying “Gun owners will no longer be trampled by such silly things as local community standards of decency and commonsense.” (There’s that word again: “commonsense” being used to disguise nonsense. George Orwell would be so pleased.)
When Texas enacted its preemption law, the goal was to have a uniform set of gun regulations that would be the same from Texoma to Brownsville and from Orange to El Paso.
Ms. Quinlan forgets there are some Texas municipalities that would be quite happy to allow open carry of handguns without a permit. Would her definition of decency and commonsense cover those, too?
SB 535: Omigosh! Churches can now allow congregants with carry permits to carry their handguns to church. So can synagogues and mosques.
Once again, Ms. Quinlan’s ignorance is painfully obvious. Churches in Texas have always been allowed to have armed security officers. They could also pay the state a $400 fee for a letter of authority from the state to create their own armed security teams. Citizens with carry permits were also allowed to carry their handguns but they were forbidden to act as security.
The new law allows houses of worship to set whatever policies they wish without have to pay the state. They can even limit who is allowed to carry a gun by restricting their policy to just those people who have been designated to serve as security.
SB 772: A change to the Texas Civil Code about liability. A person with a carry license enters a business carrying a gun and does something that results in injury or death to another person. The owner of the business can no longer be sued just because they didn’t forbid those with handgun licenses from carrying in their business and did not post the required “no guns” signs. The thought that they could be sued is mind-boggling to anyone with common sense; Ms. Quinlan’s distaste for common sense is at least consistent.
So there it is: The truth about those Texas gun laws. There is very little steak to go with the media sizzle because some of the laws were needed to comply with existing federal case law; some were to enforce the state’s preemption of firearm regulation; one was to prohibit frivolous lawsuits; one was to add teeth to a law prohibiting local governments from forbidding licensed individuals to carry handguns in places existing state law said they had the right to carry them; one was to allow a person to avoid prosecution for an honest mistake in which no one was harmed; and one was to allow Texans ordered to evacuate their homes to bring their handguns along with the rifles and shotguns they have been allowed to carry since Texas was a republic.