Texas Law Takes Aim at Cities’ and Counties’ Gun Bans

Texas Law Takes Aim at Cities’ and Counties’ Gun Bans

Texas Cities’ and Counties’ Gun Bans

In Texas’ hard-charging gun community, the Dallas Zoo is something of a terra incognita.

The property is city-owned — under state law, that would typically mean holders of concealed handgun licenses could carry pistols there. But the zoo is privately run, and it posts “no guns” signs, pointing to exemptions in the statute for “amusement parks” and “educational institutions.”

Gun owners have long argued over the arrangement, and now, a new state law could help settle the debate over that and other aspects of Texas’ gun laws. Starting in September, Texans will have a formal process by which to complain to the state attorney general about government entities that might wrongfully bar concealed guns.

The mechanism, which could result in legal action and a civil penalty, ostensibly targets “no guns” signs put up by cities and counties in clear violation of state law. But its broader impact could actually come from the courts tackling more nuanced areas, such as the zoo.

For those on both sides of the debate, the stakes may never be higher. That’s because in January, Texas will allow licensed gun toters to openly carry handguns — with the state’s existing concealed handgun rules serving essentially as the foundation for that new practice.

“We are beginning to experience the unintended consequences of these gun laws,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who voted against open carry and other major gun bills this year. “These proponents … are insatiable and will continue to elevate what they perceive as their unfettered right to carry arms.”

While open carry and allowing concealed weapons in college buildings dominated debate during the Legislature’s session, the measure to allow challenges to government gun-free zones, offered by New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, faced little opposition.

That’s because it was pitched as a clean-up effort to a 2003 law that effectively let gun license holders carry at most property “owned or leased by a governmental entity.” (Guns can still be off-limits at schools, courthouses, hospitals and a few other public areas.)

The new measure creates, in essence, a way to enforce that law. The attorney general’s office must investigate claims and determine if legal action is warranted. Fines could reach $10,500 per day.

The law does allow government officials three days to rectify a problem before the attorney general can even be notified — a fact that caused county and city associations to mostly temper their opposition to the bill.

The issue, however, has been a source of contention since Texas’ concealed handgun program was created in 1995.