Effective January 1, 2016, licensed Texas residents are permitted to openly carry a handgun. Specifically, the new law authorizes individuals to obtain a license to openly carry a handgun in a shoulder or hip holster, but it continues to prohibit any weapons in 9 specific locations including schools, polling places, courts and court offices, secured airport areas and high school, college and professional sports events.  While Texas’s new open carry law has received extensive media coverage, it should be pointed out that 44 states already allow the open carry of a handgun, to varying degrees and with various requirements.

By way of background, since January 1, 1996, Texas law has allowed residents to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun, subject to certain restrictions and limitations. Thereafter, in 1997, Texas adopted a law which held that any person who enters or remains on property or in a building of another carrying a concealed handgun without effective consent to carry, and who has notice that concealed handguns are forbidden, commits a criminal offense.  Finally, in 2011, Texas made it lawful for employees, who are licensed to carry concealed handguns under the 1996 law, to store lawful firearms and ammunition in their locked private vehicles in employer-provided parking lots and garages.

Under the new law, current holders of concealed handgun licenses are allowed to carry (openly or concealed) handguns, and they are not required to obtain a separate license to openly carry. In fact, individuals who are currently licensed will not even be required to attend any additional training.

Private businesses may “opt out” of allowing open carry on their premises. To do so, private businesses must provide notice to the person carrying a handgun by oral or written communication that entry on the property by a license holder carrying a handgun is forbidden.  In this context, “written communication” means a card or document on which specific statutory language is written or a sign posted on the property that includes the statutory language in both English and Spanish and in contrasting colors of a certain height that is displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public at each entrance to the property.

In advance of the new law, many Texas employers began to examine their existing policies on weapons in the workplace as well as weapons that may be carried by their customers and vendors. The law is flexible enough to allow those employers to craft a policy and approach that best fits their needs.  Because most employers are private businesses, they can create and enforce handbook policies that prohibit the carrying of guns by their employees in the workplace.  However, employers should be mindful that Texas law continues to allow employees, who are licensed to carry concealed handguns, to store lawful firearms and ammunition in their locked private vehicles in employer-provided parking lots and garages.