By DAVID DONALDSON
Media Law Lecturer, University of Texas
Q: What effect does the new Texas law on Open Carry of handguns have on our office policies about handguns for employees and visitors?
A: As of January 1, 2016, in Texas holders of a License to Carry (LTC) a handgun—whether issued by the state of Texas or by another state with whom Texas has a reciprocal recognition of licenses—may carry a handgun openly. This might mean that someone who wants to carry openly may be one of your employees, your ad customers, someone on site to be interviewed for a story, or someone making a delivery. Before, absent a notice denying a right to carry in the business, these same people could carry a concealed handgun. Now they may choose to carry it openly.
The good news is that those who have a valid LTC are probably some of the safest and law-abiding people that may visit your business because they have gone through a training program and have had their background checked by law enforcement personnel before they ever were authorized to carry a handgun. But the circumstances still raise issues.
The law has not changed with regard to employees. Business owners may bar their licensed-to-carry employees from carrying either openly or concealed without having to comply with the signage requirements of the law simply by putting employees on notice of the restrictions.
Non-employees present a different issue. Business owners have the option to post signs complying with the law that ban both concealed carry and open carry. The sign requirements can be found at http://dps.texas.gov/RSD/CHL/faqs/ . To make an effective ban on both, both signs must be displayed. The business always has the option of displaying a sign that bans open carry but no sign on concealed carry. A business concerned about the effect of openly displayed handguns but comfortable with concealed handguns might consider making this choice. Even if a business does not display either sign, it still may provide notice orally to an individual openly carrying a handgun that they may not do so in the business.
Assuming there are no signs prohibiting open carry, how do you know if someone with a gun on their hip is, in fact, licensed to carry? Can you ask to see their license? Yes, a business owner always has the option to request proof that someone is licensed to carry. If they cannot produce the license, even if they are properly licensed but just don’t have it with them, then they are not allowed to have a gun on the business premises. Similarly, as long as there is no unlawful discrimination, a business owner can request that someone who is openly carrying but that the business owner does not feel comfortable with to either leave and not return or secure the gun safely away from the business, then come back.
And, as always, politeness counts. An armed society is a polite society.
Q: How do we best protect ourselves from an active shooter?
A: This isn’t really a legal question, so I have to defer to the experts at the Department of Homeland Security. They have a good pamphlet called “Active Shooter, How to Respond” that contains good tips on dealing with that horrific situation. It can be found at http://www.alerts.si.edu/docs/DHS_ActiveShooterBook.pdf .
David Donaldson is currently retired from private practice and teaches Media law in the Journalism Department at the University of Texas.