ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Dozens of citizens wanting clarification on Texas’ new Open Carry law filed into Round Rock City Hall on Monday evening, seeking answers from area law enforcement.
Police say the rules of where guns are allowed come Jan. 1, 2016 are the same as concealed carry. If you have a Concealed Handgun License (CHL), you’ll get an updated license when it’s time to renew. Applicants seeking a license must be 21, pass a background check and receive classroom and shooting range instruction — although lawmakers have weakened those requirements since 2011.
“It just means you can openly carry the weapon now. It does have to be on a belt and in a holster or in a shoulder holster,” explains Commander Jim Stuart with the Round Rock Police Department.
“I think the police and law enforcement are pretty smart about it. They’re not my concern. My concerns are the individuals who think that they don’t like the law and want to take actions to make things difficult for people who are obeying it. And have the right to exercise their rights,” said Aleta Wallace, who attended Monday’s meeting.
That concern was echoed by most who spoke and asked police questions Monday at Round Rock City Hall. Only one person stood up to question whether impulsive, “rage crimes” have increased in other states that allow open carry. Those from Round Rock and Georgetown Police Departments said they did not have statistics, but in their experience, most of those crimes involve individuals who are not CHL holders.
CJ Grisham started Open Carry Texas, a non-profit, to educate Texans on their rights and advocate for more, after he says he was wrongfully arrested for carrying a rifle in 2013. Grisham said Open Carry Texas has gained more than 50,00 members in three years, members he stands up for when attending meetings like Monday’s in Round Rock.
“I think the biggest misconception, and one of them was kind of voiced here, I think the biggest misconception is that it’s gonna turn into the Wild West, that we’re gonna have all these shootouts and people are gonna get shot just for carrying,” Grisham said.
Grisham said it hasn’t been a problem in other states, and he’s confident it won’t be one here. While others may certainly have their doubts, Monday’s meeting wasn’t about debate. It was about answers as Texas prepares to enter a new reality.
Many questions centered around the rights of businesses to turn people away if they’re openly carrying a handgun. Businesses are encouraged to post proper signage, but even if they don’t, they still have the right to tell someone carrying to leave.
“It’s something new. We’re gonna have some growing pains come 1 January, but honestly, I think by March it’s really gonna just kind of – it’s gonna be another day in Texas,” Grisham said.
Local police hope that’s true, and like officers in Round Rock and Georgetown, are working to smooth the transition by educating the public. They emphasized that an officer cannot demand someone show their handgun carry license for no justifiable reason.
Round Rock and Georgetown will continue to prohibit city employees from carrying handguns on their person during business hours.
A question came up about when it’s appropriate to call police once open carry goes into effect. The Round Rock Police Department says it doesn’t want to discourage people from calling when they have a gut feeling something is wrong.
Texas will join 44 other states that already have open carry laws. Texas has about 850,000 concealed handgun license holders, a number that has increased sharply in recent years.
Before the meeting, KXAN spoke with Central Texas Gun Works owner Michael Cargill, who feels Texas is finally getting with the times, aligning with a majority of other states that allow open carry. “We are well overdue. And this is Texas, we can do a lot better,” Cargill said.
Like Grisham, Cargill says the hype ahead of Jan. 1 is anticipation of the unknown.
“I think this is something that’s just blown out of proportion, because this is for good guys, law abiding citizens, people that have a handgun license. Their gun’s gonna be in the holster. That bad guy – he’s gonna be shootin’ ya in the face,” Cargill said.
In anticipation of the law, Cargill said his business has actually started making custom holsters.
“This is the busiest we’ve ever been. We’ve had December 2013, with the Sandy Hook shooting. That was like – that made records. And then January after that. But then now, this year,” Cargill said, “This is just something that’s unprecedented.”
Cargill told KXAN the law is all about choice. Of course, not all CHL holders will open carry just because they can. Owner of Shady Oaks Gun Range in Cedar Park, Vince McElhaney, said while he and his staff open carry at work, they lean more toward concealed carry. This is to maintain what he calls the element of surprise when it comes to self-defense, saying if many are openly carrying, a criminal may just attack somewhere else.
The Round Rock Police Department plans to post all questions and answers from Monday’s informational meeting on the city’s website.
The Texas Bankers Association (TBA) is educating banks on their rights to allow or deny guns on their property.
If a Texas bank decides to deny guns on their property, customers should expect to see signs posted in English and Spanish outside of banks referencing the section of the Texas Penal Code that states entry on the property by a license holder openly carrying a handgun is forbidden.