Am I Unlawfully Carrying My Firearm?
The National Rifle Association popularized the slogan “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”, and this motto has been echoed many times in the Lone Star State, where the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 stands as a historic symbol of he importance Texans associate with carrying firearms. Unfortunately, the Texas legislature has crafted a great many other situations where they can legally take your firearms, and violating these laws may prevent a gun owner from legally carrying a firearm in the future.
Many clients of Burpee Law, come to us seeking defense from the misdemeanor crime of “Unlawful Carrying a Weapon”, which is a fairly serious charge that will commonly result in the forfeiture of the weapon and a probation term in which the defendant cannot own a weapon, as well as fine and a required weapons safety class. While this may not be a significant punishment for those arrested for carrying a club, blackjack, or brass knuckles, forfeiting a firearm is a major loss. For those who value their firearms, this can be a costly and frustrating experience, and may even put their lives at risk.
While the UCW statute specifically states that a defendant may carry their weapon on their own premises or motor vehicle, one element of the crime commonly triggers a UCW charge when the individual is in their vehicle… that being the commission of a crime other than a Class C misdemeanor. According to Texas law, carrying a weapon while “engaged in criminal activity, other than a Class C misdemeanor” will result in a Class A misdemeanor UCW charge. This includes the relatively common crimes of Possession of Marijuana (or any controlled substance) and Driving While Intoxicated, both of which are greater than Class C misdemeanors. So, if you possess a firearm in your vehicle and you’re arrested for possession of any drug or DWI, you will likely forfeit that firearm and pick up the Class A Unlawful Carrying a Weapon charge. The UCW charge is also automatically triggered if the defendant is a member of a street gang or otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Further, there are a number of places weapons are prohibited, including schools, racetracks, polling places, government offices, and airports. Even those who posses a concealed carry permit are not protected by the permit when possessing a firearm in a prohibited location, so bear that in mind should you seek a concealed carry permit - it’s not a license to carry a firearm in unlimited fashion, and you can open yourself up to criminal liability by not paying careful attention to the limitations of the permit you carry. There are a number of professions which provide additional protection from prosecution for gun crimes, but each of these must be carefully researched and understood to prevent arrest and prosecution. Better safe than sorry.
Thankfully for gun rights advocates, changes are in the works that may lead to easier and more flexible gun control laws. In the current political climate, both Republicans and Democrats are leaning towards less stringent gun control for Texans. Recently the number of training hours required for a Concealed Carry license dropped from 10-15 to 4-6 hours, and the language used in the Texas Penal Code was softened from “failure to conceal” to “unintentional display”. Further, for those who already have the CHL, no training class will be required to renew the license, and there is a one-year grace period for renewal of the license once it expires. Don’t get caught with a concealed handgun during the grace period, though, because the expired license provides no legal protection at all!
Both gubernatorial candidates Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis have called for an “open carry” law which would allow people with concealed handgun licenses to wear a pistol on their hip, in full view, while in public, although Davis has stated that she would support background checks and training requirements which would “help ensure that only mentally stable, law-abiding citizens may carry, whether concealed or open”. If Texas legislators also see sit to further decriminalize marijuana, limiting small amounts to a Class-C misdemeanor, chances for facing a criminal charge as a result of carrying a handgun drop even further.
As it stands, responsible, law-abiding citizens can follow the administrative process to legally carry a weapon without fear that it will place them in danger of criminal prosecution. Self-defense is the right of our citizens, and understanding what options are available to each individual is something with which the attorneys at Burpee Law might be able to assist.
By Brent Burpee (Originally Written for Chad West, PLLC: www.chadwestlaw.com)