Texas po­lice of­fi­cers pre­pare for open carry of hand­guns

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

SAN AN­TO­NIO | Tex­ans have long car­ried ri­fles and shot­guns openly in pub­lic. But with the Lone Star State poised to al­low res­i­dents to openly carry hand­guns be­gin­ning in Jan­uary, law en­force­ment agen­cies are hur­ry­ing to train their of­fi­cers on the in­tri­ca­cies of the law and to de­vise pro­to­col for in­quir­ing about a gun owner’s open carry per­mit.

Of­fi­cials from agen­cies across Texas said they are brac­ing for an uptick in emer­gency calls from res­i­dents who might be­come con­cerned be­cause they are not used to see­ing peo­ple openly — and le­gally — car­ry­ing a hand­gun.

“I think the pub­lic has a per­cep­tion that if some­one is car­ry­ing a firearm openly into a shop that they will be ar­rested,” said Of­fi­cer Joseph Gamaldi, sec­ond vice pres­i­dent of the Hous­ton Po­lice Of­fi­cers Union. “This a huge con­cern for us. We are pre­par­ing for a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in calls for car­ry­ing guns.”

Texas is mak­ing the change as the coun­try wres­tles with how best to re­duce gun vi­o­lence. Sec­ond Amend­ment pro­po­nents are push­ing to re­lax re­stric­tions that pre­vent own­ers from car­ry­ing their weapons for pro­tec­tion in “gun-free zones” such as col­lege cam­puses while Pres­i­dent Obama and con­gres­sional Democrats are ad­vo­cat­ing for stricter firearms reg­u­la­tions.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can, in June signed the open­carry leg­is­la­tion into law. It will al­low gun own­ers to openly carry hand­guns in a belt or shoul­der hol­ster only if they posses a carry li­cense. The same re­stric­tions on en­force­ment agen­cies on the topic since the open-carry leg­is­la­tion was signed. Among the most fre­quent ques­tions she hears from law en­force­ment are in­quiries about how a hand­gun must be hol­stered to be in com­pli­ance with the law and when an of­fi­cer can stop and re­quire a per­son to dis­play an open-carry per­mit.

“Of­fi­cers have a lot of le­git­i­mate ques­tions, like does the hol­ster have to be worn on the body?” she said, not­ing that the statute does not ex­plic­itly an­swer the ques­tion.

There is also some de­bate across agen­cies as to whether of­fi­cers have the right to ap­proach any­one they see openly car­ry­ing a hand­gun in or­der to de­ter­mine whether they are prop­erly li­censed. Ms. Tay­lor said she in­ter­prets the law to mean that of­fi­cers do have that right.

“Oth­er­wise, you are ba­si­cally en­dors­ing that any­one can carry,” she said. “We’re gen­er­ally en­cour­ag­ing of­fi­cers not to ap­proach ev­ery per­son who open car­ries, but when their gut tells them that they need to talk to that per­son, to en­gage in a friendly con­ver­sa­tion.”

Deputy Chief Jeff Cot­ner, who over­sees the train­ing divi­sion of the Dal­las Po­lice Depart­ment, said his of­fice is de­vel­op­ing videos and other ma­te­rial to ed­u­cate more than 3,500 of­fi­cers on their le­gal obli­ga­tions when stop­ping or ques­tion­ing some­one openly car­ry­ing and ad­vis­ing of­fi­cers of the best way to ini­ti­ate con­tact to min­i­mize any hos­tile in­ter­ac­tions.

“Our abil­ity to demon­strate our le­git­i­macy there with­out be­ing overly au­thor­i­ta­tive is the best way to ap­proach this,” Deputy Cot­ner said.

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