CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
LLANO — Law enforcement and businesses in the Highland Lakes are preparing for potential calls and questions regarding the Texas open carry law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016.
While some merchants such as the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls will welcome patrons who openly carry handguns, others such as H-E-B will prohibit the practice as allowed in a provision of the law.
“We have customers that currently come in (who are carrying firearms), members of our law enforcement and other people that carry (concealed handguns),” Blue Bonnet Cafe manager Dave Plante said. “It’s never been an issue for us. We’re not changing anything.”
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill, which was passed by Texas lawmakers in May.
The open carry law applies to a civilian’s legal ability to carry a pistol or a revolver in plain sight with the proper license. The state already allows open carry of rifles and shotguns.
To be eligible, a person must pass criminal and psychological background checks, be at least 21 and complete a training course that includes a shooting test.
Texas will join 43 other states that allow open carry. The states that prohibit openly carrying handguns are Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina.
To prep for the Texas law, local police and sheriff’s agencies have enacted protocols to handle 9-1-1 calls from alarmed residents or those unaware of the change.
Agencies have outlined how and whether peace officers would approach individuals who choose to open carry.
“We have a protocol both for patrol officers and also for our dispatchers about (phone calls regarding a) man with a gun,” Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn said. “We’re not going to necessarily check someone who is open carry, only if they bring attention to themselves by something other than open carry, maybe by their actions or verbiage or situation.”
When calls come into the LCSO, the dispatchers will ask:
• Is the person doing something other than just open carry?
• Is the person brandishing the weapon?
• Is he or she being irresponsible about the way they carry?
• Did the individual remove the weapon from the holster?
“Then, we’ll send the officers over to check. He may or may not ask the person for a gun permit. If he produces the permit and there is no other problem, then we’ll part our ways,” Blackburn said. “We don’t want to violate someone’s right to open carry a firearm. It’s allowed in Texas … (however, in the instance of) anything that would constitute a breach of the peace, we would definitely come up to the person and ask them to produce their license to carry.”
Since 1995, Texans have had the right to carry a handgun in a concealed manner thanks to a bill signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
However, the law came with restrictions, which will also apply to open carry.
Those restrictions are detailed in Texas Penal Code 30.06 referencing concealed carry and now Texas Penal Code 30.07, which addresses open carry.
Open and concealed carry of handguns is prohibited in:
• bars and taverns or any business that makes 51 percent of its income from alcohol sales;
• courtrooms and offices used by the court;
• public schools;
• and private businesses that opt out with provisions in the penal code by posting signs at entryways and exits.
Should private businesses opt out of allowing open and/or concealed carry in their businesses — as long as the sign is posted — staff can ask the individual who is carrying to leave.
H-E-B, based in San Antonio, which has more than 300 stores in 150 communities across Texas, has opted out of open carry but will continue to allow licensed customers to carry concealed handguns.
A statement from the grocer reads: “As a retailer of alcohol, long guns and unlicensed guns are prohibited on our property under the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission rules. H-E-B maintains the same policy we have for years: Only concealed licensed handguns are allowed on our property.”
Should a customer refuse to leave in such a circumstance, a peace officer would treat the individual as someone who is trespassing, Blackburn said.
However, officials who operate public facilities such as city, county and state buildings and venues are prohibited from restricting licensed handgun holders.
“It boils down to adults being adults and being able to respectfully carry a weapon. If you put the public in danger, that’s where you violate the law,” Burnet Police Chief Paul Nelson said. “It’s when they pull the gun out, point it around, the citizens then feel in danger, and that’s when we step in. Guns themselves don’t hurt anybody; it’s the person pulling the trigger.”
Along with the open carry law, Texans will see a few other changes.
On Jan. 1, the name of the handgun license will change from concealed handgun license (CHL) to license to carry (LTC).
“People have been carrying weapons concealed for several years now. As long as that citizen listens to that officer in that situation, it’s going to go smooth,” Nelson said. “As long as people listen and understand what’s going on, and the officer is explaining what needs to happen, it’s an easy call, and we move on.”
As required by law, when asked by a peace officer or a magistrate, individuals must disclose they are a license holder.
“We’re looking for public safety. We’re not looking to take away anyone’s right to bear arms,” Blackburn said. “I think open carry is a good idea. We don’t look for any major problem with it.”
Gail Wood, a concealed handgun license instructor who estimates he has instructed about 5,000 people through the years, offers his students direction on how they should behave in circumstances involving police and the public.
According to course curriculum, when approached by a peace officer, individuals should:
• avoid placing their hand on the holster;
• listen to the officer’s requests;
• keep their hands out of their pockets;
• inform the officer of their license to carry;
• and provide the officer their handgun license as well as their driver’s license.
During traffic stops, motorists should:
• avoid quick movements;
• place their hands on the steering wheel;
• inform the officer of the whereabouts of their weapon;
• and present both a driver’s license and a handgun license.
“I would have no qualms about the folks going through my class. They are the good, honest citizens. They’re going to do what the law says,” Wood said. “Criminals are going to do what they want to do anyway. They’re not going to pay attention to the law.”
Another requirement of the open carry law involves how the license holder must wear his or her weapon.
“The gun has to be in a shoulder holster or a belt holster,” Wood said. “There is no requirement for restraint or retention holsters, but we do discuss that in the class.”
Whether individuals support or oppose open carry, the new law is expected to prompt a closer examination at individual behavior.
“I think a lot of people who carry (handguns) don’t carry them out in the open. I personally don’t carry, but I don’t think it’s my place to say whether someone should or should not carry,” Plante said. “I know people who carry. I have friends who carry. As long as it’s done responsibly.”