A new law going into effect on January 1st 2016 will allow legally licensed handgun owners in Texas to openly carry a holstered gun in public. Texas will be the 45th state to have such a law.
“Unfortunately, this law was not written very well. It’s not very clear…I can read it one way, I can read it another way,” said Donna Edmundson, the city attorney for Houston, at a town hall meeting two months ago.
Despite an hour-and-a-half meeting regarding this concern, no one was able to quite come to any conclusion regarding the language of the law.
This confusion does not raise the questions in law enforcement you might think. While mass shootings have been on everyone’s mind this year, it’s more a matter of what law enforcement is legally allowed to do when conducting an investigation.
For one thing, law experts debate whether or not police officers are allowed to detain somewhere under suspicion that they do not have an open carry permit. On the one hand, merely having the gun on a holster is suspicious enough for police officers to ask to see their permit. On the other hand, law experts say that they would only be able to do so if they were doing other kinds of suspicious activity (such as loitering).
Geoffrey Corn, a professor of law at the South Texas College of Law in Houston explains that with the language of the law as it is, it is nearly impossible to enforce.
“What happens when an officer arrives on a scene of a shooting and observes multiple people with guns on their waists?” he asks during an interview with Fusion. “How would an officer differentiate a suspect from a civilian? How do you control a crime scene when everyone has a weapon, and is convinced that they have a right to use it? At what point when detaining someone for a different crime altogether is an officer allowed to remove the suspect’s weapon?”
“The way it’s gonna end up is that police are gonna have encounters with people who are open carrying that are going to escalate, and that are going to lead to an arrest,” Corn said. “And then that’s going to lead to defense attorneys saying the whole thing was tainted, and that the seizure was illegal because he had right to carry.”
Why would government officials leave the language in this law so vague?
George Dix, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told Fusion, “Traditionally, the way legislatures tackle hard problems is to leave it to the courts. In this case, I suspect there was no politically acceptable language they could agree on, so they left it up to others to decide.”
There is, however, one place that Texans and law enforcement won’t have to worry about this law: the airport.
While Texans will still be able to have their properly-licensed, displayed guns in public areas like baggage claim, ticketing, garages and public sidewalks or walkways, “federal law still prohibits passengers from bringing weapons to or past airport security checkpoints and the TSA is permitted to issue fines to travelers found with loaded or unloaded guns,” USA Today reports.
Still, that leaves the rest of Texas as as a big question mark — at least, until come case law is established to solidify what is permitted and what is not.
Banner Image Credit: Ibro Palic/Flickr