With Texas set to allow concealed handgun license holders to openly carry their guns anywhere except educational facilities on January 1, there are some concerns—both from regular joes with young kids and from CHL holders who don't want to get arrested just for "alarming" people in public.
During a panel Wednesday night addressing Texas's new open-carry law, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, and City Attorney Donna Edmunson encouraged citizens to ask as many questions as possible.
Mostly, they asked McClelland and Anderson to consider a myriad of hypothetical situations.
For example, many asked, what if you're just sitting on a bench at a park with your gun in your holster, and some concerned "mad mom" calls the police on you because she and her kids are alarmed by the very presence of your gun? Are the police really going to detain you and ask that you show your CHL even though you're just sitting on the bench eating a ham sandwich? Isn't that a bit invasive?
The resounding answer from McClelland and Anderson, to all of the above types of questions, was basically this: we understand your concerns, but you're just going to have to deal with it.
Chances are, they explained, you're going to come across a CHL holder openly carrying his or her gun inside of a Walmart, a Taco Bell, a JCPenny (not a Whattaburger, which already said it's not going to allow guns inside). And chances are, for CHL holders, a police officer is going to ask you to show your license once someone's kids get scared and they call 911, and you'll just have to comply, because that's the law—even if you're just sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.
One mother with Everytown For Gun Safety, a group pushing for gun reforms, explained she has always taught her children that if you see a gun, you need to run. Now what does she tell them? Anderson replied with her own hypothetical situation: "I mean, if there's somebody pushing a grocery cart and they have a pistol on their hip looking at tomatoes, that's not somebody you're worried about, right? But if they're pacing around and wearing inappropriate clothing and look like they're up to no good and using threatening language, then that raises concern."
Anderson explained that, as long as the gun's not inside a school—even on the school sidewalk or parking lot is fine—it's legal. (An unsatisfying answer to the mother, but again, that's just the way the law is, they explained). This sparked some questions about school field trips: What if a teacher takes a school bus full of kids to, for example, the zoo, and there's a bunch of dudes with guns on their belts snapping pics of the pandas next to them? Edmunson explained that labeling places like the zoo as an "educational institution" on days when there are school field trips could potentially make it unlawful to carry guns on that specific day—it was something that was still up for debate, she said.
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Unlike the zoo, which is on city property, private businesses will have the option of restricting handgun carriers from entering—whether concealed or open carry. If they decide to restrict both, then they will need two specific signs, which are subject to strict rules such as having at least one-inch-sized font.
But while many had questions about location-based restrictions, such as at parks, one man raised a more threatening scenario: Although the handgun carrier may want to have the gun for protection—the main purpose of the law—what about criminals who, seeing your openly displayed gun, might try to steal it?
It was one hypothetical situation that Chief McClelland didn't exactly know how to evaluate.
"We don't know what's going to happen," McClelland said. "This may be a great social experiment."