How Has the Texas Constitutional Carry Law Impacted Weapons Charges?
Texas has the reputation for being tough on all types of crime, but lawmakers recently enacted legislation that eases some of the restrictions on weapons charges. The Texas Constitutional Carry Law, which became effective on September 1, 2021, recognizes and legitimizes what many people see as a fundamental component of the Second Amendment:
Those who can legally own a handgun should be able to carry it, both open and concealed, without a permit. Some basic Texas gun laws are not affected by the new legislation. It is still illegal for some individuals to carry, certain places are off-limits for anyone to carry, and other limitations apply.
Because it is relatively new and the provisions are extremely technical, there can be some confusion about how the Texas constitutional carry law impacts weapons charges. The last thing you want to do is put your Second Amendment rights at risk through misunderstandings, and there can also be fines, jail time, and other penalties for violating the law. If you were arrested for violating the statute, it is critical to retain a Galveston weapons charges attorney for assistance with your defense. Plus, some general information may also help you understand the basics.
Overview of Constitutional Carry in Texas
On June 16, 2021, Texas Governor Abbott signed HB 1927 into law after being passed by the state House and Senate. As of the effective date, a person who could legally carry pursuant to a license to carry would no longer need the LTC to open or concealed carry in most public places. To be eligible for permitless carry, you must be at least 21 years old, and you will need to keep the handgun in a holster for open carry. You do NOT qualify if you:
- Have a prior felony conviction.
- Are subject to a pending order of protection for domestic violence.
- Have a recent conviction for a misdemeanor related to unlawful possession or unlawful carrying weapons (UCW).
- Are prohibited from possessing a firearm by federal law.
Note that you cannot carry in a public place if you were convicted in the last 5 years for misdemeanor assault causing injury, disorderly conduct with a firearm, deadly conduct, or terroristic threats. You might be able to legally possess firearms, but the distinction for purposes of the constitutional carry law is having a gun in public.
In addition, the statute does not eliminate the License to Carry program. You can still obtain an LTC through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which might be useful for reciprocity for other US states.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Some additional information may clear up confusion and respond to common questions about constitutional carry.
Does the law apply to all firearms?
No, HB 1927 only covers handguns that are holstered when carried openly or properly concealed from the view of others. The statute eliminates requirements related to belt and shoulder holsters. However, the following firearms are still prohibited:
- Machine guns
- Sawed-off and short-barreled guns
- Armor-piercing ammunition
- Improvised firearms, i.e., zip guns, slam guns, and other firearms created by someone other than a manufacturer
Does the statute impact “Campus” carry?
No, an LTC is still required to carry a firearm on university campuses. This factor is another benefit of getting the proper license if you seek to carry a gun on college grounds.
What places are off-limits for constitutional carry?
It is still illegal to open carry in a holster and concealed carry in:
- Polling places
- Airports, when past the security gates
- Taverns and bars
- Jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Many others
How does the statute impact prior UCW convictions?
A special provision in the Texas Constitutional Carry law might affect you if you were convicted in the past of unlawfully carrying a weapon. It is possible to apply for and obtain an expunction, also known as an expungement. If you were convicted before September 1, 2021, on UCW charges, for actions that are now legal under HB 1927, you may qualify. By going through the expunction process, you can clear the matter from your record.
Penalties for Weapons Charges
The constitutional carry statute is rather limited in scope, so a violation could still lead to a conviction if you are under 21 years old, are prohibited from carrying under the above eligibility criteria, or carry in a place where prohibited. Class A Misdemeanor charges apply to certain violations, so you could face up to a year in jail, $4,000, or both. Other illegal misconduct under permitless carry laws might lead to a third-degree felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Plus, there are still numerous provisions in the penal code that cover weapons charges related to the possession and usage of firearms. For instance:
- Carrying in places where weapons are prohibited might lead to Class C Misdemeanor charges, for which you could be sentenced to a fine – but no jail time. In other locations, having a firearm on your person could be a third-degree felony.
- Possession of certain prohibited weapons is usually a third-degree felony but could be a state jail felony punishable by 180 days to 2 years’ incarceration.
- Possession of a firearm by individuals who are prohibited from doing so is a Class A Misdemeanor or third-degree felony depending on the circumstances.
Chronology of a Texas Gun Crimes Case
In any criminal matter, it is always essential to keep in mind the legal criteria at different stages. With weapons charges, officials must first have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to be committed. Police need to have probable cause that you violated the law to make an arrest. To obtain a conviction, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to each element of the crime. With these points in mind, an overview of the timeline of a criminal case is useful.
You have numerous constitutional rights that apply to investigations and arrests, so take advantage of them. Exercise your right to remain silent by refusing to answer questions or provide statements to police, and contact an attorney right away. Never resist arrest, however.
During your first appearance in court, the official weapons charges will be read in court. You will also have the opportunity to enter a plea and post bail for pretrial release.
Your Galveston weapons charges lawyer will be at your side during regular court appearances, but there may also be chances to fight the allegations even before trial through motions. Options include:
- Motion to exclude evidence that was obtained from an unlawful search and seizure.
- Motion to compel evidence held by the prosecution.
- Motions to dismiss the charges, based upon a lack of evidence or other defenses.
At various stages throughout the process, there may be chances to consider an agreement to resolve weapons charges. This is often possible when the prosecution’s evidence is weak, especially for a first-time offense. In gun crimes cases, you could benefit from having the charges reduces from a felony to a misdemeanor or other lenient treatment. You will need to plead guilty, but the penalties are reduced.
If the charges have not been dismissed or resolved via plea bargain, your case will go to trial. Stages of a criminal trial include:
- Jury selection
- Opening arguments by both prosecution and defense
- Presentation of the government’s case-in-chief, during which the prosecutor will present exhibits and testimony
- Cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses by your own attorney
- Presentation of your case defending the charges, including witnesses and evidence
- Closing arguments
- Jury deliberation
- Rendering a verdict of guilty or not guilty
If you are found guilty in a misdemeanor case, the judge may issue penalties immediately after the jury reads its verdict. For a sentence that includes incarceration, you could be taken into custody right away.
However, for many felony cases, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing further down the road. You will still be incarcerated after the verdict, but there will be additional time for the prosecution to gather evidence to make its case for a certain level of punishment. Your Galveston weapons charges attorney will also prepare for the sentencing hearing by collecting proof and developing arguments for how the judge should rule on punishment.
Consult with a Galveston Weapons Charges Attorney About Defenses
The Texas Constitutional Carry Law has been the source of some controversy, but the fact remains that it is now in full force and effect. The implications for weapons charges certainly cause concern if you were arrested, but defenses are available. Plus, it is a relief to know that there are expungement options for previous gun crimes convictions.
For more information about constitutional carry, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. Individuals in Galveston County and Greater Houston can schedule a complimentary consultation by calling (409) 515-6170. After reviewing the details of your case, a Galveston weapons charges lawyer can provide additional details and discuss defense opportunities.