By: Mark Diaz
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Texas Gun Laws in 2022
You might be aware that Texas gun laws are somewhat restrictive compared to statutes in other US states, but you may not realize that they also change on a relatively frequent basis. Whenever lawmakers are in session, members of both houses introduce bills, work through the legislative process, and eventually vote on them.
Many of these measures affect the Texas Penal Code section on Weapons, but not all new laws receive much fanfare. There can be profound implications for your rights without your knowledge, so it is important to review some of the firearm-related statutes that will become effective in 2022.
Texas gun laws may seem less restrictive in some ways, but keep in mind that being charged with violating them can lead to serious charges and harsh penalties. Plus, there are collateral consequences that impact your life long after serving your sentence, including ramifications for your Second Amendment rights. If you were arrested, retaining a Galveston County criminal defense lawyer is critical. There are strategies to fight the charges, and a favorable outcome is more likely when you have skilled legal counsel at your side. In addition, some information about the Texas gun laws in 2022 is useful.
Overview of Gun Statutes in Texas
The laws classify different offenses based upon illegal types of firearms and ammunition, unlawful use, prohibited possession, and many other factors. Some of the most important provisions to note include:
- Places Weapons Prohibited: It is against the law to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly possess a firearm in designated places, such as schools, beyond airport security, polling places, and most government buildings.
- Unlawful Carrying of a Handgun by License Holder: A person may obtain a license to carry a firearm, but this does not allow unlimited use of it. You could be arrested under this statute if you intentionally display a handgun such that another person can view it in a public place unless in carried in a holster, whether on the person or in a motor vehicle.
- Unlawful Possession: Certain individuals are not allowed to be in possession of a firearm, including anyone convicted of a felony or a any domestic violence misdemeanor. It is possible to restore your right to possess a gun, but you must go through official legal proceedings to do so. Until you work out the details, you cannot legally possess a firearm.
- Prohibited Weapons: It is a violation of Texas weapons laws to intentionally, possess, produce, transport, fix, or sell certain items, many of which are firearm-related. Examples include machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, armor-piercing ammo, explosives, zip guns, silencers, and many other devices.
Recent Changes to UCW
Another gun statute deserves special mention because it made significant changes to the law on Unlawful Carrying Weapons (UCW). Texas is one of many US states to become “constitutional carry,” recognizing the importance of Second Amendment rights. The state’s version of the law states that individuals over 21 years old can carry a handgun outside their home or vehicle without a license. However, this law must be considered in the context of the statutes above: Some individuals are still prohibited from possessing a firearm, and you cannot carry a gun in prohibited places.
Besides the statutes that prohibited certain acts, Texas has enacted firearms laws on obtaining permits. Though not required, individuals may opt to get a license because it enables them to carry a gun in places where non-permit holders cannot. A person may be eligible for a license if he or she:
- Is at least 21 years old
- Has not been convicted of a felony
- Is not an abuser of drugs or alcohol
- Is not under restrictions imposed by a domestic violence restraining order
- Is up to date on child support payments
- Does not suffer from incapacity issues
- Meets other criteria established by law
Penalties for Violating State Gun Laws
Texas imposes punishment for gun crimes according to the familiar classification system of felony versus misdemeanor, with the former being the more serious offense. The offenses described above are generally categorized as:
- Class A Misdemeanor: Unlawful carry by a permit holder is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both. Unlawful possession is also in this category, but only in cases where the person possesses a firearm within five years after serving a sentence for a domestic violence crime.
- State Jail Felony: If you violate the law on possession of illegal weapons, some items on the list could lead to charges for a State Jail Felony. A conviction could mean 180 days to 2 years’ incarceration, plus a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Third Degree Felony: Unlawful possession not involving the exception listed above falls in this category, and it is a Third Degree Felony to carry a firearm in places where they are prohibited. Plus, for the more dangerous items on the list of prohibited weapons, a person could face Third Degree Felony charges. If convicted, a judge could sentence you to 2 to 10 years in prison.
Whenever you see a range listed as a period of imprisonment, the judge has the discretion to issue a sentencing anywhere falling in between the high and low end. As such, your criminal history, surrounding circumstances, and many other factors could be relevant for purposes of punishment.
Potential Defenses and Other Strategies
Considering the penalties you face for violating Texas gun laws, the obvious goal is to avoid a conviction. This may not always be possible, but your first defense strategy will always involve attacking the government’s case. The prosecution is required to prove each element of the gun offense beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is difficult to meet this burden with weak evidence and legal arguments. If the prosecutor fails, you may not be convicted. Additional defense strategies may include:
- Unlawful Search and Seizure: Under the protection of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, police cannot conduct a search with a warrant supported by probable cause. Violations of your civil rights could lead to application of the “exclusionary” rule, i.e., a rule of evidence that requires all evidence to be tossed out of court if it was obtained illegally by police. Without this proof, the prosecution may not have enough evidence to convict.
- Questions About Possession: You may not think too much about what it means to possess something, but there are specific rules in criminal law. Actual possession is carrying something on your person, while constructive possession is a more fluid concept. You could be viewed as being in constructive possession of a gun if it is in your purse, the glove box of your vehicle, or the pocket of your jacket.
- Issues Involving Intent: Many Texas gun offenses are based upon intent, which means that the prosecutor must prove that you acted with a certain state of mind when committing the crime. Key terms include ‘intentionally,’ in which you were purposeful in your actions; ‘knowingly,’ where you were fully aware of your circumstances and what you were doing; and, ‘Recklessly,’ in which you acted in conscious disregard for the safety of persons and property interests.
- Plea Bargaining: Though not a complete defense, working out an agreement with the prosecution can lead to lesser charges, reduced sentencing, or both. The government is often particularly interested in negotiating a plea bargain when the evidence is weak.
How an Attorney Supports Your Rights
The details for presenting these defenses and applying other strategies will vary, but you might better understand them in the context of the criminal process. Your Galveston County criminal defense lawyer will handle your needs at each stage, including:
- Arraignment: At your first court appearance after arrest, the official charges will be read in open court and you will be asked to enter a plea. This hearing is also an opportunity to address bond for your pretrial release.
- Pretrial: There may be multiple hearings before your trial date, often dealing with “motions” – official requests filed by the prosecutor and your defense attorney, asking the court to make a ruling on a particular issue. Your lawyer may file motions to dismiss, which could lead to dropping the charges.
- Trial: At your trial, both sides will present arguments, exhibits, and witness testimony. However, the prosecutor will go first, enabling your lawyer to attack the evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Your attorney will present information to support your defense, ideally convincing the jury to acquit.
A Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Provide Additional Details
It is helpful to know the different stages of a criminal case for violation of Texas gun laws, but you can also see how legal help is critical at each one. You have rights, financial interests, and a future to protect, and you put them at risk without experienced representation.
For more information about fighting gun charges, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz. Our firm serves clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County in a wide range of criminal matters, so we are ready to deliver solid legal support. You can set up a no-cost consultation by calling 409-515-6170. After reviewing your circumstances, a Texas gun crimes defense attorney can discuss strategy.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.