‘Open Carry’ — is the law really for us?

Jeffrey L. Boney

Jeffrey L. Boney

At the stroke of midnight, beginning January 1, 2016, any individual who holds a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) will be allowed to openly carry their handgun in the Lone Star State.

The law, passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and signed in June by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, will allow people with permits to carry their handguns outside their clothes, and those who already have concealed handgun licenses will only need to renew their permits when it comes time for renewal. Everyone else will need new training on the new ‘open carry’ law.

The real question, however, is will Black people receive the same level of respect and consideration when it comes to the application of this new law as non-Black people?

Prior to the passage of the new law, current Texas law only allowed anyone to openly carry a rifle or shotgun. Now, only CHL holders will be allowed to openly carry a handgun under the new ‘open carry’ law, as long as they are licensed by Texas or a state with reciprocity.

History shows us there has been a tremendous element of risk that Black people have faced when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. There has been a consistent pattern in society, and in the mainstream media, of Blacks being viewed as the guilty aggressor, while Whites are typically viewed as ‘not guilty’ and focused on protecting themselves when they carry firearms.

The overarching perception amongst many people in society is that Blacks are overly aggressive criminals, who are inherently up to no good. This is extremely concerning, especially when Blacks run the risk of being identified as criminals to law enforcement officials, despite not breaking any laws.

As we look at the significant number of unarmed Black people who have been killed in this country by members of law enforcement, it leads many people to believe this new open carry law is not intended for Black people, but for non-Black people. When members of law enforcement constantly use the narratives that they thought the suspect was ‘reaching for his/her waistband,’ or that they had to shoot because they were “in fear of their lives,” one can see how the implementation of this new open carry law has many Texas residents concerned.

According to a recently released report from law enforcement watchdog Mapping Police Violence, between January 1 and December 15, 2015, police officers in the United States shot, beat, used stun guns on or otherwise killed a staggering 1,152 people.

What is even more troubling in the Mapping Police Violence report is the fact that 59 out of the nation’s 60 largest police departments killed at least one individual or let someone die in their custody, and 100% of the people killed at 14 of those police departments were exclusively Black. Only five of those U.S. police departments killed only White people.

In Houston, some entities have chosen to embrace the law and others have not.

Because many members of the Black community in Houston rely on public transportation, there should be some level of preparation and caution, because Metro officials are allowing all passengers to openly carry holstered guns on Metro buses and light rails if they have a permit.

Metro customers will also be allowed to openly carry holstered guns at the Metro RideStore, but not at Metro board meetings. Metro Police Chief Vera Bumpers says light rail and bus operators are being trained not to ask passengers if they have a permit. If an operator or passenger notices someone acting suspicious, operators will have to call Metro Police.

The faculty senate at the University of Houston recently held a meeting and said ‘no’ to guns on campus. They passed a resolution that says “weapons designed to end human life have no place in the academic life of the university, except when carried by duly authorized law officers.”

The resolution has been presented to University of Houston President Renu Khator, who hasn’t made a decision about campus carry. She currently has a task force meeting with groups across campus asking for their opinions. Although open carry took affect across the state of Texas on January 1, 2016, the ‘campus carry’ part of the law will begin on August 1, 2016, for all four-year colleges and universities and on August 1, 2017, for all two-year colleges.

Per the new open carry law, business owners can ban open carry in their stores by posting a sign near the entrance.
San Antonio-based grocery chain, H-E-B, has recently come out and stated they will not allow visible handguns in any of its 318 Texas stores. H-E-B joined stores such as Target and Whataburger, who have also asked customers not to openly carry guns in their locations.

This past week, the Galleria mall joined in and decided not to allow visible handguns as well.

The Houston Police Department (HPD) has been preparing for new open carry law change by publishing information, that they hope will help eliminate confusion about the law, on the HPD website. The HPD website lists the following legislation affecting open carry: House Bill (HB 910); Senate Bill (SB 11); and Senate Bill (SB 273).

Earlier in the month, HPD Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr., Harris Country District Attorney Devon Anderson and Houston City Attorney Donna Edmundson participated in a panel discussion and answered questions from the public on the new Texas open carry legislation.

This informational meeting addressed state law and municipal authority over the regulation of firearms in Texas. There was a ‘question and answer’ prepared by HPD Chief McClelland, Harris County DA Anderson and City Attorney Edmundson, which was developed out of those public hearings the department held with citizens.

In the end, open carry is the law of the land and it will take some serious getting used to. For those law enforcement officials who violate the law and racially profile lawfully carrying Black people, it may take several federal lawsuits in order to address the issue and stop the behavior.

Gun rights are civil rights and are not just for non-Black people, and there is some form of legal open carry law in 43 states in the U.S. In the state of Texas, any law-abiding, African American citizen has the legal right to exercise open carry if they so choose, without harassment or without being racially profiled.

Whether driving while Black, walking down the street while Black or, now, legally carrying a firearm while Black, the skin color of
Black people should not be used to stereotype and treat Black people like very few other races of people in America are treated.
Time will tell how this law will impact the African American community, but there is one thing African Americans should always be mindful of in Texas—don’t let open carry get you carried away!