More than three months after the Houston Zoo removed its signs prohibiting weapons at the request of a local gun rights advocate, the signs are now back up, the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday.
Back in September, the Houston Zoo removed its signs almost immediately after Houston attorney T. Edwin Walker wrote a demand letter to the zoo claiming that the signs citing section 30.06 of the Texas Penal Code were illegally prohibiting concealed handgun licensees from carrying weapons on the city-owned property.
Since then, a number of institutions displaying 30.06 signs on government-owned property across the state of Texas have been challenged by gun rights advocates, thanks to a new law and formal complaint process that allows citizens to notify the Attorney General's office if they believe a 30.06 sign is posted illegally.
Among the government-owned properties with gun bans being challenged are the zoos in Dallas and Fort Worth. Unlike Houston, both of those zoos refused to remove their gun bans from the very beginning, setting up what will probably become a draw-out legal battle. The Dallas Zoo claims it fits the legal definition of an "educational institution," while the Fort Worth Zoo was recently designated as a "day-care facility" by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, meaning the gun bans at both zoos would be protected by law.
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The Houston Zoo joined that group when it reinstalled its 30.06 signs last week. Zoo spokesperson Jackie Wallace said in a statement that the Zoo consulted with a private law firm and "concluded that Texas government code does not prohibit [the zoo] from lawfully posting signs that ban weapons from its premises because [the zoo] is — at its core — an educational institution."
Here's the rest of the zoo's statement explaining the decision to put the signs back up:
The Houston Zoo was established for educational and conservation purposes, and as such it educates more than 200,000 children on its campus each year through its educational initiatives and hundreds of thousands more through daily access to the animals and staff on its campus. It also maintains an Education Department that employs 17 professional educators who develop and deliver educational programming on a daily basis at the Zoo.
Given the mission of the Zoo and the presence of hundreds of thousands of children on its campus, it is clear that guns and zoos simply do not mix.
Texas law recognizes that weapons are not compatible with the education of our youth and prohibits weapons at a schools and educational institutions and places where activities sponsored by schools or educational institutions take place. [Section 46.03 of the Texas Penal Code.]
Simply put, the Houston Zoo is an educational institution.
In fact, based on the number of student and guests that the Houston Zoo serves, we are proud to be the largest environmental and conservation education facility in Texas.
Walker told the Chron yesterday that he is planning on filing a complaint with the Attorney General's office regarding the zoo's reinstatement of the signs. But for now, the Houston Zoo remains a gun-free zone.