Texas Gun Laws: An Overview
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. In fact, a gun-related charge can lead to significant consequences that can be life-altering. If you are facing a gun charge, protect your rights by reaching out to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer for the professional legal guidance that you need.
The Texas Constitution does, in fact, protect your right to bear arms for your legal self-defense, but it also allows the state to impose gun possession rules that are 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. It is worth noting, however, 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 law’s passage, most Texans are now allowed to carry handguns without the need for pesky permits and without any time-consuming safety training. 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). Nevertheless, it remains a crime to display a handgun on one’s person unless it is holstered. Further, if any of the following apply, it is illegal to carry a handgun in Texas:
If you’ve been convicted of specific types of crimes within the past five years
If you are legally prohibited from possessing a firearm
If you are impaired and are not on your own property or are not on the way to your own property
If you are in one of the places where guns are restricted, generally
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:
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 on 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
Texas puts blanket restrictions on gun carry in certain locations that include all the following:
At schools, on school buses, and anywhere that school activities are taking place (the rules vary for colleges and universities)
Whenever 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
At courthouses and their offices
At hospitals and nursing home facilities
Violations of these restrictions can lead to charges that range from Class A misdemeanors to third-degree felonies (depending upon the location in question).
Handguns on College Campuses
Texas law specifically addresses the matter of carrying handguns on college campuses, and it 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 answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to gun charges may help you find the best path forward in your situation.
What are some of the most common gun charges?
Two of the most common gun charges include:
Unlawful Possession of a Firearm – Some people are barred from possessing guns – as discussed above – and the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm can apply when they do (possession of a gun goes beyond carrying a gun and involves simply having the gun, such as in one’s home).
Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm – The unlawful discharge of a firearm is also known as the reckless discharge of a firearm, and it applies to the illegal act of knowingly discharging a firearm over occupied premises; over paved public roads, highways, or streets; or on a property that is used primarily as a dwelling or that is zoned as exclusively residential.
Other charges that frequently apply include:
Possession of an unregistered or stolen weapon
Conceal and carry license violations
Unlawful brandishing of a firearm
Trafficking in illegal firearms
Assault with a deadly weapon
Possession of a firearm by a felon
Can I carry a loaded gun in my car without a license to carry?
As a matter of fact, 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 does not, however, apply in many other states.
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 the state to purposefully display a handgun in a public place – in plain view of someone else – unless the gun is properly holstered.
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, all of the following must apply:
The applicant must be at least 21 years old.
The applicant must have been a legal resident of the state for a period of 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 qualifies under both state and federal laws to purchase a handgun in the first place.
The applicant is not in arrears related to child support payments or any other payments collected by a state agency.
The applicant 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:
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.
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.
You are not, however, required to run a background check as a private seller of a firearm in Texas.
What is the Castle Doctrine?
The State of Texas has what is known as stand your ground laws, which are also referred to as the castle doctrine (in the sense that your home is your castle). 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 example, if you are in your own home, you are not required to retreat in the face of danger and have the legal right to use deadly force to protect yourself from an intruder who is armed. The same is true of business owners who are in their place of business and truck drivers who are in their rigs. In Texas, deadly force is considered justifiable in the following circumstances:
The person claiming self-defense believed that it was necessary to use deadly force at the moment.
The person claiming self-defense had a legal right to be on the property in the first place.
The person claiming self-defense did not provoke the person against whom deadly force was used.
The person claiming self-defense was not engaged in criminal activity at the time that deadly force was used.
If it was self-defense, does it mean I won’t be charged?
Self-defense is actually an affirmative defense, which means that it is generally implemented after someone has been charged with a crime. 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, and if you have been charged with a crime, the burden of proving it was self-defense – as your legal defense strategy – is on you. 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. One thing a claim of self-defense is not, however, is a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Do I need an attorney?
The consequences of a conviction for any kind of gun charge can be considerable, including:
Jail or prison time
Loss of social standing
In terms of the social consequences, a conviction can make it difficult to rent a home, obtain a home loan, get a job, gain acceptance into college, and obtain a federal student loan. Your future is far too important not to work closely with a dedicated criminal defense attorney.
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 254-501-4040 for more information today.