Texas Gun Laws: An Overview of Rights and Restrictions

Defense

Updated on August 22, 2022

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 law’s passage, most Texans are now allowed to carry handguns without the need for pesky permits and 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 situations apply, it is illegal to carry a handgun in Texas:

  • You’ve been convicted of specific types of crimes within the past five years.

  • You are legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.

  • 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, generally.

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 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 of the following places:

  • 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

  • At courthouses and their offices

  • At hospitals and nursing home facilities

  • At racetracks

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.)

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.

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.

What Are Some of the Most Common Gun Charges?

Two of the most common gun charges include unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

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 such people do possess a gun (possession of a gun involves simply having the gun, even 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. 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.

Other charges that frequently apply include the following:

  • 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?

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 Texas 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, 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 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 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.

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 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 actually 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?

The consequences of a conviction for any kind of gun charge can be considerable, including:

  • Jail or prison time

  • Steep fines

  • Loss of social standing

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) 781-4222 for more information today.

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