Liberty Hill prepares for open carry

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Business owners who want to prohibit open carry on the property may post a sign like the one above at every entrance, or simply ask customers openly carrying firearms to leave the premises. (Courtesy Photo)

Business owners who want to prohibit open carry on the property may post a sign like the one above at every entrance, or simply ask customers openly carrying firearms to leave the premises. (Courtesy Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

On Friday, the Open Carry law goes into effect in Texas allowing licensed gun owners to openly carry a holstered gun in a majority of public places, except where prohibited.

Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams recently spoke with The Independent about what the new law means for local gun owners, the police department, businesses and residents.

“You still have to have a license before you can carry,” Williams said. “It’s not a constitutional carry. Meaning it’s not your inalienable right to carry a weapon. You have to get a license. If you have a concealed carry license, then it just carries over and you can do either/or. You don’t have to have any more training on that.”

He explained the difference between concealed carry and open carry is that with open carry, a weapon is visible.

“People have to remember it (a gun) has to be in either a shoulder or belt holster,” Williams said. “You can’t just take it out and wave it around and show people. If you take it out of your holster, then you’re in violation.”

Property and business owners can opt out of open carry. They should post signage accordingly out of courtesy, but are not required by law.

“Private businesses have a right to say ‘get out of my store with your gun,’” Williams shared. “Even if they don’t have the signs posted they still have the right to deny service or access to anyone other than for obvious reasons.”

He cautioned that business owners still can’t turn away customers on basis of discrimination related to race, sex, ethnicity or the like.

“If signs are posted at the door, it’s an immediate arrestable criminal trespass for the license to carry,” Williams warned. “(Likewise), if they come into your store and you ask them to leave and they refuse, then again, it’s criminal trespassing if they refuse after you tell them.”

Trespassing into a business that has signs posted is a Class A Misdemeanor.

State law dictates the message of the sign and the size of the lettering. The signs should be posted at every entrance to a business. Businesses can opt to put up separate signs for concealed carry and open carry, or if they want, just for concealed carry.

At a local level, Williams does not think the new law will drastically affect how the Liberty Hill Police Department conducts business. The department works with Williamson County Emergency Communication dispatchers.

“Hopefully our dispatchers are going to get trained on the questions to ask and that will dictate a lot of the response,” Williams said.

For example, a call may come in about a man carrying a gun openly but on a belt holster. Though legal this may take some getting used to for some people.

“As far as our response, we’re going to get there and we’re going to weigh the situation,” Williams said. “We may ask to see their license or we may not ask to see their license depending on whether or not we believe we have reason to request to see their license.”

He said he does expect more calls, but he doesn’t see those calls evolving into something more.

“Most people that have a license aren’t going to change their habit of having it concealed because it’s just a better, safer way to carry it,” Williams said.

He does not want to discourage any concerned residents from calling their police department.

“We’ll come and check it out so don’t hesitate to call,” Williams assured. “If it doesn’t look unreasonable the way he or she is carrying it, then you probably just need to be watchful and be ready to call. If you see something that gives you that gut feeling that something isn’t right, then call. Other than that, the best thing to do is not to overreact.”

Local law enforcement officials said a challenge for them will be balancing the rights of all citizens affected by the new law.

“Part of our responsibility is balancing one citizen’s right to be concerned versus another citizen’s right to exercise their right to carry under the law,” said Georgetown Police Department Assistant Chief Cory Tchida.

Tchida, along with Round Rock Police Department Training Commander Jim Stuart and Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs were panelists at an Open Carry information meeting held at Round Rock City Hall last week.

Legal signage opposing open carry should read as such: “Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (Trespass by license Holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly.”

The open carry meeting recording is available to viewers at www.roundrocktexas.gov. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section on open carry. House Bill 910, commonly known as Open Carry Law, becomes effective on Jan. 1, meaning gun owners cannot openly carry before that date. By law, the weapon must be carried on a belt or shoulder type holster.

Further information is available at www.dps.texas.gov.

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