Texas law now allows carrying handguns without a license, but gun owners are still vetted at the state capitol

AUSTIN — Texans may no longer need a license and the associated background check to pack their guns in public, but gun owners can still expect to be checked by law enforcement. order before entering the State Capitol.

Checking people carrying firearms without a license is part of a policy quietly implemented on September 1 – the day the law went into effect. Anyone transporting without a permit is required to check in at the west entrance of the Capitol, “where they will be screened appropriately” by state troopers, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. The Dallas Morning News.

Firearms instructor Michael Cargill walked into the west entrance of the building on Tuesday. When he told the soldiers he was transporting without a permit, Cargill said he was asked to provide identification. A soldier then made a phone call and gave someone Cargill’s driver’s license number.

About three minutes later, Cargill was allowed in.

Cargill immediately told The news that the soldier was performing a “criminal background check” to see if Cargill was qualified to carry without a license under the new law.

“What [state officials] saying and doing are two different things,” said Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works. “They believe they have to check people before they come into this building with a gun.”

It is not known if similar screening is occurring at other state government buildings in Austin. The DPS did not respond to requests for comment on the verification process or explain the reasoning behind it.

The new law does not require companies to allow visitors and customers to transport without a permit. Nor does the law prohibit state officials from denying entry to those carrying a firearm without a license, said attorney Richard Hayes, whose Houston-based firm has produced a guide to the new law for gun owners.

Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said the vetting policy apparently offers state decision makers on Capitol Hill a higher level of protection than they offer other government buildings.

“In any other place with unlicensed transport, we have no idea if people have been background checked and if they are transporting legally,” Switzer said. “There are legitimate issues where you and I on the street, in public, don’t have the same protection, and we would support the same protection because carrying without a license is dangerous.”

Governor Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

In the regular legislative session that ended in May, state lawmakers passed and Abbott signed a bill that eliminated the requirement for anyone to obtain a handgun license. not prohibited by other state or federal laws from owning a firearm.

Around the Capitol, new signs appeared last week directing those wishing to gain access without a permit to the west entrance of the building. Visitors who are not authorized to transport must pass through a metal detector and be checked with a security rod.

Some gun rights advocates call the blame.

“All law-abiding gun owners should be treated equally under the law,” said Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights. “The new Capitol policy discriminates against those who cannot afford a license.”

Others aren’t bothered by the verification policy.

“Because the DPS is charged with the protection of all legislators and visitors to the Capitol, they are not violating the letter or spirit of the law,” said Andi Turner, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association.

This isn’t the first time the Texas Capitol has operated under different rules than other public buildings. During the first wave of COVID-19 last spring, the State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion remained closed to visitors after Abbott ordered the museums to reopen.

The state capitol poses a unique legal issue in that the building houses open government meetings, a place prohibited under the Unlicensed Transportation Act, said Hayes, the attorney for Walker & Taylor PLLC.

“There’s going to be a little bit of growing pains early on as we figure out how constitutional carriers are handled at the state, county and municipal level,” Hayes said.

The carrying without a license law, which proponents call “constitutional carrying,” has long been sought in the Legislature by conservatives and gun rights activists. It has failed to gain traction in recent years as Democrats and gun safety groups have fought to make it easier to carry guns after repeated instances of gun violence, including two mass shootings. high profile in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in 2019.

Other provisions of the carrying without a license law include criminalizing carrying a firearm while intoxicated and suppressing the records of those previously convicted of illegally carrying a firearm before September 1. It also allows peace officers to disarm a citizen at any time. time if they believe it is necessary to protect that person, those officers or others.

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