Many of you have probably heard the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” but do you really know what it means? The phrase, which derives from the Latin phrase, “Ignorantia legis neminem excusat,” is a legal doctrine which states that even if a person claims to be unaware of what a law means, it doesn’t allow them the ability to avoid the consequence or liability that comes as a result of violating that law.
The rationale behind this doctrine is that if ignorance were an excuse, a person charged with a criminal offense or is subject of a civil lawsuit could merely claim that he or she is unaware of the law in question to avoid liability, even though the person really did know what the law was. Thus, the law applies to everyone and makes the case that everyone has access to know what all the laws of the land are. The doctrine assumes that all laws have been properly published and distributed, for example, being made available over the internet, being printed in books that are available for sale to the public at affordable prices and by being printed in publications like the Houston Forward Times.
Even if you do not know that something is against the law, you could still be punished for doing it. More importantly, there are some extremely important laws that you should want to be aware of, especially here in Texas.
Do you truly understand Texas Gun laws?
THE GUN DEBATE IN AMERICA
Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, a heated debate ensued over gun laws in the country. There has been even more heated discussion about gun laws in this country, particularly since the Trayvon Martin tragedy and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman.
Per the Constitution, every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the State, but the Legislature has the power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime.
There are many people who are on both sides of the issue concerning the “right to bear arms,” as afforded us in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Supporters of gun control measures argue that more gun control is necessary to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, while opponents argue that stricter gun control laws will not solve violent crime problems and may even make law-abiding citizens easier targets by making guns harder to legally purchase.
According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 283 million guns are in the hands of civilians in the U.S. Each year about 4.5 million firearms, including approximately 2 million handguns, are sold in the U.S. and an estimated 2 million second hand firearms are sold each year. Additionally, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country and more than 30 people are shot and murdered each day; 1/2 of them are between the ages of 18 and 35 and 1/3 of them are under the age of 20.
With the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) at the forefront of those who advocate for gun rights and other factions who are seeking to curtail what they believe is a major contributing factor of murder and crime in this country, one must understand that each state has a different set of gun laws that is applicable to them.
RIGHT TO CARRY IN TEXAS
Texas is a shall-issue state, which means that state authorities are required by law to issue carry permits to all qualified applicants. Qualified applicants must be at least 21 years of age, or must be an active member of the U.S. armed forces.
An applicant must have a clean criminal history, including military service and recent juvenile records, as well as not be under a protective order; not be chemically dependent; not be of unsound mind; and not be delinquent in paying fines, fees, child support, or other payments.
Applicants must successfully complete state-certified handgun training before becoming eligible for a carry permit. Application for carry permits in Texas is made through the state Department of Safety.
Texas’ carry permits are honored by 32 other states and Texas honors carry permits from 40 other states. But Texas has its own version. Texas has a self-defense law based on the “Castle Doctrine,” which has a “stand your ground” clause in it, meaning that the person using physical or deadly force against an attacker does not have a duty to retreat. Deadly force is permissible under the law when a person is attempting to defend himself from deadly force of an attacker in his home, vehicle or place of employment, or against attackers who are committing crimes of kidnapping, murder, sexual assault or robbery. The law provides civil immunity to persons who use authorized deadly force against attackers.
Texas also has a state firearms preemption law that prevents cities or counties from enacting gun laws that are more restrictive than state law. The state also has a range protection law that extends protection to gun firing ranges.
While possessing a firearm with the proper licensing is permissible, there is a list of places in Texas where gun possession is off limits, with or without a permit to carry. Those places include schools, courtrooms, election polling places, racetracks, and airports, sporting events, establishments where the primary business is the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption and any establishment posting signs barring guns.
AFRICAN AMERICANS AND GUNS
There has been much discussion about “black on black” crime and the number of crimes committed by Blacks in America; and while various statistics show that gun violence is attributed to many of those crimes, reports show that those crimes can’t be committed by Black people who have obtained a legalized Commercial Handgun License.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety Regulatory Services Division, between the period of January 1 and December 31 of 2012, Blacks qualified for roughly 7% of handgun licenses issued in 2012, compared to over 85% of Whites. The report also showed that nearly 22% of the handgun licenses that were denied were Black applicants compared to roughly 64% of White applicants.
What is more eye-opening, are the number of Black applicants versus White applicants who actually applied and were issued their gun licenses during that period. In 2012, only 10,389 Black applicants were issued their handgun license versus 146,367 White applicants during that same year.
With the number of reported crimes involving Blacks and gun violence, it is clear that there is an abundance of guns that have infiltrated our communities that did not get there legally. Assuming that there are no Black gun manufacturers who are developing these weapons and providing that artillery and cache of weapons to the community, one would have to ask how they are getting into the community?
HIGH-PROFILE LOCAL INCIDENTS
There are many stories that are centered on Texas gun laws that have been in the news here in Texas over the past decade.
There was the Joe Horn shooting controversy in 2007, in Pasadena, Texas, when Horn shot and killed two men burglarizing his neighbor's home and was cleared by a grand jury, because he used the self-defense, “Castle Doctrine” law to prevent a property crime.
Then you have the 2012 case surrounding Crystal Scott who shot Jonathan Ables in the chest outside a northwest Harris County gas station, because she said she feared for her life when Ables approached her car in an apparent road-rage incident.
And most recently, you have heard about the 23-year old woman who shot and killed 58-year-old Louis Daniel at a gas station in southeast Houston because she feared for her life. Surveillance video shows the woman going to her trunk and getting a rifle, then pointing it toward the ground near Daniel who was armed with an umbrella and a pocket knife. Then it shows the man swinging at the woman as she steps back and fires the weapon, killing Daniel.
All of these incidents involved guns and whether the person had a legal right to shoot and kill the other person according to Texas gun laws.
IMPORTANT TEXAS GUN INFORMATION
There are some very important gun laws and information that every Texan should be aware of:
- There is no waiting period for purchasing a firearm in the state of Texas.
- If you have just moved to Texas, there is no state registration of firearms.
- If you have inherited or bought a gun from someone in Texas, there is no state registration of firearms, thus there is no requirement to transfer the firearm in your name.
- In order to purchase a firearm in Texas, you will need a valid state-issued ID.
- With a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) you may carry a pistol or revolver on your person as long as it remains concealed. Long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, do not have to be concealed, but must be carried in a manner not calculated to cause alarm, and do not require a license.
- You cannot strap a gun on your hip in Texas, however there are some exceptions. Open carry is not legal in Texas, but you may openly carry a gun on your own property, while participating in a sporting activity, such as being at a shooting range or while engaged in hunting.
- With the passage of the Motorist Protection Act, you may now readily carry handguns, loaded and within reach, so long as you conceal the firearm. Again, long guns such as rifles and shotguns, do not have to be concealed and may be loaded and within reach.
- Weapons such as machine guns, suppressors and short-barreled firearms are legal in the state of Texas. Also, Texas abides by Federal law which at this time has no restrictions on so-called "assault weapons" such as semi-automatic weapons like the AR15 rifle.
- There is no limit on the number of rounds a magazine may hold. The only limit on magazines in Texas is the number of rounds you are physically able to cram into the thing and/or carry and/or afford.
83RD LEGISLATIVE SESSION UPDATES
During the recent legislative session, the Texas Legislature didn’t pass either of the two campus carry bills that would allow concealed handgun license holders to bring their guns into classrooms and buildings on higher education campuses.
However, a number of bills did pass that change the way Texans can be licensed to carry and where they can carry, so if your CHL is about to expire, some of these might apply:
- Guns in cars: Allows people, including students, with concealed handgun licenses to store their firearms in their cars on a university campus or in parking lots. Neither public nor private universities can create a law prohibiting it. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Renewal fee: Reduces the CHL renewal fee for certain honorably discharged veterans, current members of the state military forces, and certain peace and correctional officers to $25. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Online renewals: Renewal applications can be submitted on the Internet. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Fingerprints: The Department of Public Safety must come up with a way for people who live in a county with a population of 46,000 or less and are not within a 25-mile radius of a facility that can process digital or electronic fingerprints to submit theirs. Fingerprints are required to apply for a CHL. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Seized and Sold: A seized weapon not returned or claimed by the owner can be sold at a public sale. Only a licensed federal firearms dealer can purchase the weapon, and proceeds go to the law enforcement agency that seized it. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Social security: Applicants for a concealed handgun license don’t need to give their Social Security number to the Department of Public Safety, and the department does not need to request it. Effective Jan. 1, 2014.
- Interchangeable guns: Allows people to carry a weapon that may be of a different category than they demonstrated handgun proficiency with prior to being issued a CHL. If you qualified with a revolver, you were limited to carrying a revolver. Earlier law stated that if someone qualified with a semiautomatic weapon, they could carry either a revolver or a semiautomatic. If only qualified with a revolver, then that’s the only gun that can be carried. This lifts that restriction. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- Classroom time: Reduces the classroom time required to receive a CHL from 10 hours to 4-6 hours. Allows CHL holders seeking to renew their license to take the classroom instruction part and the written exam online. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- School Safety Task Force: Creates a School Safety Task Force that will look into how to improve emergency operations planning and will develop a school safety certification program. Effective immediately.
- School Safety certification: Allows qualified handgun instructors to get a certification in school safety training such as the protection of students, interaction of license holders with first responders, tactics for denying an intruder entry to a classroom or school, how to increase accuracy with a handgun under duress. The certification course will require between 15-20 hours of instruction. Effective Sept. 1, 2013.
- School marshals: The “Protection of Texas Children Act” creates a school marshal position in public k-12 schools and charters. A school marshal will be allowed to carry a gun and their identity would only be known to the school’s head administrator and law enforcement. If working in a classroom or around children, the school marshal’s weapon will be locked away but within reach. Effective immediately.
MAKE SURE YOU ARE LEGAL
Although there are issues surrounding guns in this country, the Second Amendment and the laws of the state of Texas make it legal and acceptable to carry a firearm. If any citizen of the state of Texas believes that owning and carrying a firearm to protect themselves, their family or their possessions is the right thing to do, they have the legal right to do so. However, the operative word is “legal.”
If you are interested in making sure you are “legal” and obtaining a firearm in Texas, you may apply online at the Texas Department of Public Safety - Regulatory Licensing Division Concealed Handgun Licensing website. Or contact the DPS by phone at (512) 424-7293.
There are many CHL instructors, and they could help anyone go through the process.
The cost is $140, except for senior citizens, who can receive a carry permit for a cost of $70. Active or retired law enforcement officers can receive a carry permit for $25.