- Update: Gun permits allow express entrance into the Texas Capitol building
- From coffee shops to National Parks, gun carrying citizens aren't necessarily welcomed by other residents
- Some states allow "open carry," while others allow "concealed carry"
- People for and against gun carrying laws have good reasons supporting their opinions
- Regardless, if you're carrying a gun, you need to follow the law of the state you're in
Carrying a concealed gun into the Texas State Capitol isn’t only permitted, it’s practically encouraged. Metal detectors were installed at entrances to the Capitol last May after a shooting. The general public must get scanned by security officials to gain entry to the building.
A separate procedure was created for people with concealed handgun licenses. Visitors showing gun permits are given express entry. They don’t have to get scanned or show their guns.
Now frequent Capitol visitors, like lobbyists and journalists, are running out to get gun permits so they don’t have to wait in line behind tourists trying to visit the Capitol. It’s not unusual for Texas lawmakers to pack a pistol in their boots and purses.
Last February, Texas Governor Rick Perry pulled out a pistol while jogging and shot a coyote that threatened his dog. He sometimes carries a pistol when he jogs because of snakes in the area.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the "right to bear arms." There are laws, however, limiting that right in some respects. And, regardless of the right, gun-toting citizens aren't welcome everywhere
Early in 2010, gun rights were in the crosshairs in some unlikely places: Coffee houses and US National Parks.
In Starbucks locations from California to Virginia, customers walked in wearing guns. They were in plain sight, usually in a holster strapped across their hips. Sometimes all alone, but more often than not with several other customers carrying guns.
They organized these "demonstrations" to exercise their right to carry a firearm - the right given to them not only by the US Constitution, but also the state laws where the Starbucks are located. And Starbucks announced it wouldn't interfere with their customers' right to carry firearms inside its stores.
For nearly 100 years, no one was allowed to carry a loaded firearm in our National Parks. Guns could be transported in and through the parks, but they had to be disassembled, unloaded, and in the trunk of a car. That all changed when the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act was passed.
As of February 22, 2010, anyone with the legal right to carry a weapon may do so in most National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges.
As a general rule, gun laws fall into two groups:
- Open Carry laws let any citizen (but they usually have to be residents of that state) carry a loaded firearm so long as it's in plain view. It was this type of law involved in the Starbucks demonstrations
- Conceal Carry laws let you carry a gun, but it doesn't have to be in plain sight, meaning you can hide it under your clothing, for instance. In most states, you have to apply and pay for a permit and take a gun-safety course before you may carry. For the most part, the new law regarding National Parks is seen as a victory by people with concealed carry permits
The laws are, for the most part, pretty stringent, public-safety-oriented, and loaded with exceptions. For instance, in many concealed carry states, you can't carry a gun into:
- Restaurants or bars where alcohol is sold for immediate consumption
- Government owned buildings, like libraries and post offices, or
- School grounds
There are similar restrictions and training and permit requirements in "open carry" states, too.
The Starbucks and National Parks incidents highlight some of the major issues in the gun-law debate. For gun-owners, there are two main arguments for allowing citizens to carry: The fundamental right to bear arms, and the protection of themselves and their families. Let's face it, the "good guys," the police, can't be everywhere all the time, and they're outnumbered by the "bad guys." Carrying a gun, and knowing how and when to use, means security for many gun owners.
On the flip side, opponents don't like open or concealed carry laws for a variety of reasons. For example, when it comes to the National Parks, there are fears guns may lead to "poaching" or the illegal killing of wildlife; confrontations between armed visitors and unarmed visitors and park rangers, and damage to monuments and landscapes.
As for businesses and stores open to the public - like Starbucks - non-carrying customers don't like the idea of guns in places that are family-oriented. They also fear violent confrontations, where a disgruntled, armed customer uses his weapon to settle an argument with an employee or another customer.
What Can You Do
If you want to carry a gun, it's critical you know and understand the laws in your state - or any other state you're in. This is especially important if you're planning to visit a National Park. The laws of the state where the park is located control your right to carry a gun. And the laws usually are different - the law for Yosemite (California) may be much different than the laws for the Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee, North Carolina).
Also understand that, no matter if you're in an open or concealed carry state, stores and businesses can stop you from carrying a gun while on their premises. "No shirt, no shoes, no service," you've seen that sign, right? If you see a sign saying "No Guns On Premises," or something similar, you can't take your gun in there. If you do, you may be asked to leave, or even arrested.
You can check with organizations like USA Carry and OpenCarry.org for some help, but remember, they're not lawyers and the laws may and do change often. You should always check with your state's attorney general or local sheriff's office for details.
If you don't like your state's gun laws, or the National Parks law, you can:
- Refuse to visit any business that allows concealed or open carry
- Call or write to your state lawmakers or US Representatives and Senators and ask them to change the law
- Trust that people carrying a gun are responsible and law-abiding citizens who don't pose a threat to you and your family, and go about your business as usual
It comes down to respect. If both sides of the debate can understand and respect each other's rights and points of view, there's no reason we can't all get along.
Questions For Your Attorney
- As a store owner, can I get into legal trouble if I ban guns in my store and a customer is hurt when someone tries to rob the store?
- I have a concealed carry permit in my home state. Does that mean I can carry my gun in any state legally?
- What kind of legal problems might I have if I try to stop a crime and a bystander is hurt when I fire my gun?