Packing Heat in Texas

By John Robinson

The legality of carrying a weapon in Texas is an area of law that is often confusing and misunderstood.  In general, it is illegal to carry a handgun in public on or about your person.  However, if you have a Concealed Handgun License (CHL), you can carry a concealed weapon in many public places.  The key word is “concealed”; the handgun cannot be visible to the public.  Texas CHL law does not allow you to carry a gun into certain places, such as hospitals, courts, correctional facilities, churches and places of religious worship, places where sporting events are held, amusement parks, taverns, and airports.  Further, a private business can prohibit you from carrying a weapon into its establishment by posting a notice that they do not allow weapons.  If you enter that business with a handgun, you are then trespassing.

Interestingly, the law prohibiting handguns does not apply to long arms such as rifles and shotguns.  You may recall seeing people driving around with a shotgun rack in their pickup’s rear window.  Texas law does not prohibit this.  Actually, there is no law against carrying a visible long arm in public.  However, in reality, doing so could arguably be considered disturbing the peace, which includes displaying a firearm as an offense.

What about carrying a handgun in your vehicle? Many people think that you can carry a handgun if you’re traveling between counties.  Texas law has always allowed a person to carry a gun in his or her vehicle if they were “traveling.”  However, the law does not define what “traveling” means, so it is up to the courts to decide that issue.  This vagueness in the law has often meant a person could be arrested and then would have to convince a prosecutor that he or she was traveling in order to get the unlawful carrying of a weapon (UCW) case dropped.

Current Texas law provides a presumption of travel.  This effectively means that if you’re driving in a vehicle with a concealed weapon (again, it must be concealed), you are presumed to be traveling within the meaning of the statute.  Yes, you can legally carry a gun in your car without a CHL.  The law also allows you to carry the gun to your vehicle.  The exceptions to the presumption of travel are if the handgun is in plain view (as with a CHL it must be concealed), the person is engaged in criminal activity other than traffic violations, the person is legally disallowed from owning a weapon (for example, for past criminal convictions) or the person’s name is in the Texas criminal street gang database.

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