Texas Gun Laws: An Overview of Rights and Restrictions

Gun involved in Texas criminal gun charges

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on April 3, 2024

You likely recognize that Texas has a unique relationship with guns. While the state stands by your right to bear arms, it takes the matter of gun violations seriously. A gun-related charge can lead to significant consequences that can be life-altering.

If you face a gun charge, protect your rights by reaching out to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer for the professional legal guidance you need.

Your Rights

The Texas Constitution protects your right to bear arms for your legal self-defense, but it also allows the state to impose gun possession rules intended to thwart crime.

While there are no laws that restrict you from carrying either a rifle or a shotgun (other than the basic restrictions that apply to recent felons, to people in other specific categories, and to specific places, such as schools), there are laws that limit your ability to carry a handgun.

However, it is worth noting that these limitations were loosened considerably by a Texas law that passed in 2021 (commonly referred to as constitutional carry).

The New Law

The Texas Tribune reports on the state’s shift in gun laws, and the upshot is that, with the passage of new constitutional carry laws, most Texans are now allowed to carry handguns without the need for pesky permits and time-consuming safety training. Constitutional carry – or permitless carry – allows all who are eligible to open or conceal carry a firearm in the State of Texas without a license to carry (LTC).

While the state continues to issue licenses to carry, they are no longer required in most places throughout the state (unless the person is not yet 21 years old or it is illegal for him or her to carry in the first place). It remains a crime to display a handgun on one’s person unless it is holstered, but the requirement specifying the need for either a hip or shoulder holster no longer applies.

Further, if any of the following situations apply, it is illegal to carry a handgun in Texas:

  • You’ve been convicted of assault, terroristic threat, deadly conduct, or disorderly conduct within the past five years.

  • You are legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.

  • You are subject to an active protective order.

  • You are impaired and are not on your own property or are not on the way to your own property.

  • You are in one of the places where guns are restricted.

If you have been accused of a crime related to Texas gun laws, do not hesitate to contact a Killeen criminal defense lawyer.

Texas Restrictions vs. Federal Restrictions

Texas law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a felony (which means that the charge carries at least one year in prison) or has been convicted of any domestic violence charge from possessing a gun, but this prohibition extends to only five years beyond the last date of incarceration.

Federal gun laws are broader in scope than those in the State of Texas and include the following restrictions:

  • It is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor to possess a gun (with no expiration date on the restriction).

  • It is illegal for anyone who is subject to a domestic violence restraining order to possess a gun.

  • It is illegal for anyone who is in the country illegally—or who is in the country under a nonimmigrant visa—to possess a gun.

  • It is illegal for anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the military to possess a gun.

  • It is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a drug charge to possess a gun.

  • It is illegal for anyone who has fled in an attempt to avoid arrest or in an attempt to avoid punishment for a crime to possess a gun.

Those Places Where You Cannot Carry a Gun

Even if you’ve been greenlighted to carry in accordance with constitutional carry in Texas or have an LTC, there are certain places where it’s always unlawful to carry a weapon. Texas puts blanket restrictions on gun carry in all of the following locations:

  • At schools, on school buses, and anywhere that school activities are taking place (the rules vary for colleges and universities)

  • Wherever school, interscholastic, or professional sporting events are being held

  • At businesses that derive more than half of their income from the sale of alcohol on the premises

  • Any room or rooms where governmental meetings are happening

  • At courthouses and their offices

  • At hospitals, nursing home facilities, and mental hospitals

  • At racetracks

  • At polling locations on voting days and when early voting is taking place

  • In airports

  • In correctional facilities and civil commitment facilities

The possession of firearms can also be prohibited – as a matter of notice – in all the following locations:

  • At amusement parks

  • At places of worship

  • At any place of business that displays visible signage prohibiting handguns

Violations of these restrictions can lead to charges that range from Class A misdemeanors to third-degree felonies, depending upon the location in question. (Learn about the different classifications of misdemeanors and felonies.)

If you are facing criminal charges for carrying a gun in a restricted area, contact a Killeen criminal defense lawyer to help you defend your rights.

Handguns on College Campuses

Texas law specifically addresses the matter of carrying handguns on college campuses. Carrying at colleges is allowed as long as the carrier is licensed to do so—unless the specific portion of the campus has established prohibitions related to concealed carry and posts the requisite notices.

Further, it is illegal to carry a handgun—even if it is holstered and even if the carrier has a license—at those institutions of higher learning that prohibit open carry and post the necessary notices. The laws regarding campus carry were not changed by the 2021 law.

The Most Common Gun Charges

There are many gun charges in Texas, but some are more common than others. No matter what kind of gun charge you are facing, a Killeen criminal defense lawyer is standing by to help.

Unlawful Possession of a Firearm

Some people are barred from possessing guns—as discussed above. In Texas, it is illegal to carry a firearm when any of the following restrictions apply:

Those under the Age of 21 or Who Have Certain Convictions on Their Records

Those who are under the age of 21 or who have certain convictions on their record are prohibited from carrying handguns outside of their homes or vehicles. The specific convictions include all the following offenses:

Anyone with such a conviction on his or her record cannot carry a gun without a license to carry until five years have passed since the date of conviction.

Those Engaged in Criminal Activity

It is also against the law to carry a gun while committing any crime – other than a Class C misdemeanor related to a traffic or boating ordinance.

Consider the following prime example. You have a gun visible in your car, and you head to happy hour after work. On the way home from the bar, you’re pulled over for DWI. If the officer who pulls you over charges you with DWI and sees the gun, he or she can also charge you with unlawful possession because you’ve been accused of committing an offense that isn’t a Class C traffic offense.

You can face unlawful carry charges whether you are engaged in constitutional carry or you have a license to carry.

Knives that Are Location Restricted

Location-restricted knives refer to knives with blades that are 5.5 inches or longer, and those who are under the age of 18 are prohibited from carrying them outside of their own premises unless they are under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian.

Intentionally Displaying a Gun in Plain View

Texas laws prohibit anyone from intentionally displaying a handgun in plain view of another person in a public place. If you want to open carry in Texas, holsters are required.

Carrying a Handgun while Intoxicated

It is illegal to carry a handgun while intoxicated unless those doing the carrying are on their own property, property that is under their personal control, or private property with the consent of the property owner. Another exception is if the offenders are directly on the way to or from their own vehicle or boat, a vehicle or boat that is under their personal control, or a private boat with the property owner's consent.

Those Directly Prohibited

Those who are expressly prohibited from carrying a gun as a matter of state or federal law are barred from doing so when they’re not at their own home or on route to or from their home and their vehicle or boat.

Fines and Penalties for Unlawful Carry Convictions

When those who cannot possess a gun do so, the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm can apply (possession of a gun involves simply having the gun, even in one’s home).

The unlawful carrying of a weapon is generally charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and fines of up to $4,000. In certain situations, such as carrying a gun in a business that sells alcohol, the charge can be elevated to a third-degree felony. A conviction carries 2 to 10 years in prison with fines of up to $10,000.

Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm

The unlawful discharge of a firearm is also known as the reckless discharge of a firearm. This charge applies to the illegal act of knowingly discharging a firearm over occupied premises, paved public roads, highways, or streets, or on a property used primarily as a dwelling or zoned as exclusively residential.

The charge of discharge of a firearm is a Class A misdemeanor in the State of Texas, which means a conviction can lead to jail time of 180 days to a year and fines of up to $4,000.

Criminal Possession of a Firearm

It is against the law to carry a gun in the State of Texas – whether at home or in public – within five years of a felony prison sentence being completed, which includes all the following kinds of sentences:

  • Incarceration

  • Felony parole

  • Felony community supervision

When five years have passed since the felony sentence was served, the individual regains the right to carry a weapon but only at a residential address. The right does not extend to public places.

This five-year hold also applies to anyone who has served a sentence for assault in the commission of family violence. Further, anyone who’s been served a restraining order or has been convicted of domestic violence is similarly restricted from carrying a gun.

A criminal possession charge is a third-degree felony, and a conviction carries 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

The Possession of a Forbidden Weapon

Certain kinds of firearms and ammunition are forbidden in Texas and across the nation:

  • Sawed-off shotguns

  • Automatic weapons, including machine guns

  • Armor-piercing ammunition

  • Explosive weapons, including improvised explosive devices

  • Chemical dispensing devices

  • Zip guns

  • Tire deflation devices

  • Silencers (though there are some exceptions)

Possession of a forbidden weapon other than a tire deflation device is a third-degree felony, which carries 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. A conviction of possessing a tire deflation device is a state jail felony, which carries a sentence of up to 2 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

The Unlawful Transfer of Weapons

In Texas, there is a law against the transfer of certain weapons. For example, it is illegal to sell, rent, lease, loan, or give a gun to someone whom you know plans on using it illegally. All the following actions are also off-limits:

  • Giving or otherwise supplying a child who is under the age of 18 with a gun, club, or knife that is restricted in the location in question

  • Selling or otherwise providing a gun or ammunition to someone who is intoxicated

  • Selling or otherwise providing a gun or ammunition to a felon before five years have passed since the punishment was resolved

  • Selling a gun to someone under a protective order

The charge of unlawful transfer of a weapon is a Class A misdemeanor for each of these scenarios (except for providing a child under 18 with a weapon). A conviction for a Class A misdemeanor brings up to a year in jail and fines of up to $4,000. If the charge does involve a child, it’s a state jail felony, which means 180 days to 2 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Weapons charges in Texas become more serious when the element of violence is involved, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a prime example. The charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon can be charged in either of the following instances:

  • When someone intentionally or recklessly causes someone else to suffer serious bodily injury

  • When someone shows or uses a deadly weapon in the course of assaulting someone else, which includes threatening the victim with bodily injury or engaging in offensive conduct

A deadly weapon is “anything designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury,” and any firearm makes the cut. Ultimately, just about anything that can be used to harm someone else qualifies, including the following implements:

  • A plastic bag or pillow that is used to suffocate someone

  • A car

  • A boat

  • Fists and hands

  • Boots

These are in addition to more obvious weapons, such as bats, knives, and swords.

The charge of first-time aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is usually a second-degree felony, which carries a sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. The penalties can be enhanced if it isn’t a first-time gun charge.

It’s also important to note that an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon conviction can also require restitution, which refers to reimbursing the victim for losses he or she experiences, such as medical expenses and the cost of counseling.

Other Common Charges

The following gun charges are also common in Texas:

  • Possession of an unregistered or stolen weapon

  • Conceal and carry license violations

  • Unlawful brandishing of a firearm

  • Trafficking in illegal firearms

FAQ about Gun Laws

The answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to gun charges may help you find the best path forward in your situation. For more information about any of the topics discussed here, contact a Killeen criminal defense attorney.

Can I Carry a Loaded Gun in My Car Without a License to Carry?

You can carry a loaded gun in your car without a license to carry in the State of Texas—as long as you are not legally prohibited from having a firearm in the first place. This allowance does not, however, apply in many other states.

If the gun in your vehicle is in plain view, you must be at least 21 years old and have a license to carry – or must have the gun holstered. Other than for traffic violations, it is against the law to carry a gun in your vehicle during the commission of a crime.

How Are Guns Required to Be Carried in Texas?

When you carry a gun on your person in Texas, you must use a holster, but there is no longer a requirement that the holster is of the shoulder or belt variety. It is, nevertheless, still a crime in Texas to purposefully display a handgun in a public place—in plain view of someone else—unless the gun is properly holstered.

Can the Police Confiscate a Gun that Doesn’t Belong to Me?

The police can confiscate any gun in your possession, even if it doesn’t belong to you. If the police confiscate a gun from you as a result of an unlawful carry charge, only the owner can retrieve it from the government – after proceeding in accordance with the law.

How Does Disorderly Conduct Apply to Guns?

When a person intentionally or knowingly displays a firearm or another kind of deadly weapon in a public place for the purpose of causing alarm, it can lead to a charge of disorderly conduct.

What Are the Requirements to Obtain a License to Carry?

In order to obtain a license to carry (LTC) in Texas, an applicant must meet all of the following requirements:

  • The applicant must be at least 21 years old.

  • The applicant must have been a legal resident of the state for at least six months prior to the application.

  • The applicant cannot have been convicted of a felony.

  • The applicant cannot currently be charged with the commission of either a Class A or Class B misdemeanor.

  • The applicant cannot be chemically dependent.

  • The applicant must be capable of exercising sound judgment.

  • The applicant cannot be under current restrictions related to domestic violence.

  • The applicant must qualify under both state and federal laws to purchase a handgun in the first place.

  • The applicant cannot be in arrears related to child support payments or any other payments collected by a state agency.

  • The applicant needs to have passed the written and shooting proficiency test of the required gun safety course.

What Are the Advantages of Having an LTC?

Although the newly expanded gun-carry laws in Texas mean that you are not strictly required to obtain an LTC, there are advantages to doing so, including the following benefits:

  • It allows you certain protections related to accidental carry in secured areas of airports.

  • Some businesses allow carrying by those with an LTC (while others are strictly prohibited).

  • Licensed carriers are not prohibited from carrying in government meetings.

  • Licensed carriers can skip the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) when purchasing a handgun.

  • There is licensure reciprocity with a wide range of other states.

Can I Be Charged with Unlawful Carry If I Have an LTC?

Your license to carry only allows you to possess a weapon in the furtherance of lawful activity. If you’re carrying a gun where it’s prohibited or are otherwise engaged in a criminal offense, such as possession of marijuana or DWI, your LTC no longer applies. In other words, a license to carry is not without limitations.

Does My LTC Apply across State Lines?

The State of Texas has reciprocity agreements with some other states, which means that if you have a concealed carry license from a state where reciprocity is established, you can legally engage in concealed carry in Texas. It’s important, however, to know your state’s position in terms of reciprocity with Texas.

Additionally, some states have what is known as unilateral agreements with Texas. This agreement generally means that, while Texas recognizes their concealed carry licenses, they don’t recognize the concealed carry licenses issued by Texas.

How Old Do I Have to Be to Buy a Gun in Texas?

In Texas, you must be at least 18 years old to buy a long gun from a licensed dealer and must be at least 21 years old to buy a handgun. Federal law generally bars anyone who is under the age of 18 from possessing a handgun unless a specific exception applies, such as for self-defense from a home intruder or for hunting.

What Are the Laws about Long Guns?

Texas does not have a law on the books that specifically prohibits anyone from carrying a long gun, such as a shotgun or rifle. However, there is a law that prohibits the carrying or displaying of a gun in a way that is designed to alarm others, which includes brandishing it or pointing it at others.

Anyone who is not allowed to possess a handgun as a result of state or federal law is similarly prohibited from possessing a long gun.

Am I Allowed to Sell My Gun?

There are exacting state laws in place regarding the sale of guns, and they include all the following restrictions:

  • Private sellers are not permitted to sell firearms to anyone whom they know (or have reason to believe) is not permitted to possess a firearm.

  • Private sellers are not permitted to sell firearms to anyone who lives in a state other than Texas.

  • Private sellers are not permitted to sell firearms to anyone who is not yet at least 18 years old.

However, private firearm sellers in Texas are not required to run background checks.

What Is the Castle Doctrine?

The castle doctrine provides a legal justification for using force (such as using a firearm) in limited circumstances—when you have no duty to retreat. For more information, read “The Castle Doctrine and Self-Defense in Texas.”

If It Was Self-Defense, Does It Mean I Won’t Be Charged?

Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means that it is generally implemented after someone has been charged with a crime.

That being said, if the police genuinely believe the incident was self-defense from the get-go, it is unlikely that charges will be levied. Generally, however, the police will make the arrest and figure out the specifics later.

If you have been charged with a crime, the burden of proving it was self-defense is on you. A claim of self-defense is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The police and the prosecution have wide discretion in Texas when it comes to pursuing charges, and whether or not you are charged will hinge on the specific circumstances involved.

Do I Need an Attorney?

A conviction for any kind of gun charge will go on your permanent record. The consequences of a conviction can be considerable:

  • You can face jail or prison time.

  • You may need to pay steep fines.

  • Your social standing can be seriously tarnished.

  • You could lose your current job and may not be able to find a new one.

  • You could lose your professional licensure or experience related restrictions.

  • You may not be able to rent a home or obtain a home loan.

  • You won’t have access to federal student loans, may not be accepted to the college of your choice, and could be barred from living on campus.

Your future is far too important not to work closely with a dedicated criminal defense attorney.

I’m Facing a Gun Charge. What Should I Do?

The most important move anyone in your situation can make is consulting with a dedicated Killeen criminal defense attorney as early in the legal process as possible. Your lawyer will ably take on all the following critical tasks in focused pursuit of your case’s optimal outcome:

  • Gathering all the available evidence, which includes any the authorities may have that tends to support your innocence

  • Building your strongest defense

  • Skillfully negotiating with the prosecution with the goal of having the charge against you dropped but, barring that, in pursuit of a plea deal that favors your rights and best interests

  • Ensuring that your legal rights are well represented, which includes keeping any evidence out of your case that wasn’t collected in accordance with search and seizure laws

  • Being ready to take your case to court when doing so is called for

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a distinguished criminal defense attorney whose practice focuses on guiding cases like yours toward beneficial resolutions. Your case is important, so please do not wait to reach out and contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information today.

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