Texans are just a few months away from legally being able to openly wear their firearms on their belts and shoulders, thanks to legislation passed during the last Texas legislative session.
However, officials with local law enforcement agencies in Kilgore, Gladewater, White Oak and Hallsville do not anticipate seeing an increase in the number of residents applying for a concealed hand gun license.
“We’re a rural community, and a lot of our citizens and community members already have weapon systems, you know they use it for hunting and personal protection, anyway,” Hallsville Police Chief Paul Montoya said. “So we don’t anticipate seeing a rush to get CHLs or to run and purchase more weapon systems.”
State law currently allows the open carry of long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. The open-carry law, which was drafted as House Bill 910 and Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, will allow gun owners with a valid CHL to openly carry their handgun or pistol in a shoulder or belt holder.
Alex Azar, a concealed handgun license instructor and owner of Longview Concealed Handgun Licensing and Training, said he has seen a bump in the number of students enrolling in a CHL course because of the open carry bill.
“We’ve had an increase in the last couple of months because of that. I think the buzzword is out there, so I think more people are trying to get their license,” Azar said. “I find that there’s a lot of myths and rumors out there that we’re trying to help clear up. A lot of people don’t realize that if you already have a concealed handgun license, you will grandfather clause in, you don’t have to go to any more training or get another license to open carry.”
Longview, Kilgore, Gladewater, White Oak and Hallsville police all will be completing appropriate training before January when the law takes effect, police representatives said.
Montoya said there are several videos taken in states that allow open carry circulating on social media, some that show officers handling it in a good light and others in a negative light. His officers have reviewed a few of those videos and talked about them, he said.
“I think the biggest tool that we have is how we communicate and interact with the citizen. If there’s not a situation going on and we go and talk to them in a very respectful, dignified way … it’s just like anything else,” he said. “I think one thing people tend to forget is part of our job is education and information. So, if there is somebody who’s doing something that they shouldn’t be because they’re not 100 percent knowledgeable of what the law says, that’s our opportunity to educate them and inform them.”
Like other officials, Gladewater Police Chief Robert Vine is more concerned for the safety of residents choosing to open carry than for the safety officers trained to deal with criminals and firearms.
“I believe law enforcement has been successfully interacting with individuals who have been legally carrying their concealed handgun for several years, and I do not anticipate this new law will pose additional or significant issues,” Vine said. “One concern that does come into play with open carry is the fact (that) everyone, including the criminal element, is aware of the fact that you have a handgun strapped to your side or shoulder.”
Experts say that practice and awareness will be key to residents’ safety, should they decide to open carry.
“Every time I do just an initial law enforcement encounter with anybody, say a traffic stop, when I get out and they say ‘I have a CHL, I have a weapon system with me …’ one thing I always ask them is, when’s the last time you shot?” Montoya said. “If you want to take on the responsibility of having a CHL, there’s some responsibility that comes with that. And if you want to carry defend yourself or a third party person, you have to have a certain level of proficiency.”
White Oak Police Chief Terry Roach said people who open carry also need to be aware of their surroundings.
“With open carry, I will tell them you will have to be more aware of your surroundings,” he said. “A person doesn’t realize how fast they can be disarmed. At least if it’s concealed, then the people around you have no clue you are carrying.”
Azar said open carry could leave residents at a tactical disadvantage and could even put them at risk.
“Some people think that carrying a gun on your outside is going to scare a criminal, and that’s not really true. We’re not a big advocate of open carry at my facility; we kind of teach against it,” Azar said. “To me, you’re giving up a tactical advantage. When I go into a restaurant or a store and there is a bad guy in there, they see that I have a gun on. Again, criminals aren’t scared of people with firearms. I think you’ll see an increase of people getting robbed for their gun that decide to open carry.”
Last October, William Coleman in Oregon was openly carrying his handgun when a man approached him and asked for a cigarette, the Associated Press reported. The two men chatted for a while before the stranger pulled his own gun from his waistband and told Coleman, “I like your gun, give it to me.”
Though not required by the new bill, Azar said anyone who wishes to open carry should buy a retention holster, with a button or snap.
“It’s very easy to disarm someone who has a gun on their side if you can just walk up and pull it out of their holster. And very few people have training on how to properly carry good equipment,” he said. “Get as much training as you can if you decide to carry openly.”
Azar offers a course called Defense of Firearm, specifically aimed at safe equipment training and other defenses against being disarmed. For details about classes at Longview Concealed Handgun Licensing and Training, call (903) 236-9908.