Texas police officers prepare for open carry of handguns
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.