Will Open Carry be Allowed on K-12 Campuses, Dem. State Senator Asks Texas AG

Photo: Pal Weaver/Creative Commons

Texas State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) asked the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton to clarify the meaning of the word “premises” in the state’s new open carry law, which goes into effect on January 1. At issue is what constitutes school premises and if open carry will be allowed on K-12 campuses. Whitmire filed for the opinion (RQ-0054-KP) on behalf of lobbyists groups.

The request was made at the behest of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA), the latter represents independent school district (ISD) police, also known as School Resource Officers (SRO). Law enforcement and educator organizations opposed the open carry law approved by the Legislature earlier this year. TASB And TMPA believe the word “premises” does not adequately clarify school perimeters and could confuse local law enforcement and scare teachers.

The general understanding has been that the New Year’s Day change in the Texas gun law does not mean licensed owners will be able to carry openly everywhere. El Paso’s ABC affiliate KVIA 2 reported that schools, hospitals, and nursing homes are among the many venues that will remain gun free zones.

In the request, Whitmire acknowledged Texas public school “premises,” school buses, or anywhere a school activity takes place are gun-free zones and will remain such under the new gun law, saying that weapons are prohibited “on any grounds…on which an activity sponsored by a school or educational institution is being conducted.”

TASB Legal Services Director Joy Baskin; however, expressed the lobbyists’ “preference” would be “for the Attorney General to interpret the statute in a way to give the maximum local control to school districts for each individual district to define where its gun-free zone would be.”

TMPA Executive Director Kevin Lawrence told Time Warner Cable News Austin that officers need direction before the law goes into effect, although he thought they would be better served by not allowing open carry anywhere on school grounds.

TASB’s 2015 report, Firearms on School District Property, defines “premises” as gun-free zones under state and federal laws but asserts that Texas Penal Code (TPC), Section 46, distinguishes between what are “school premises” and “school zones.” Baskin insisted that language in the new law blurs the line where school “premises” begin. She told the San Antonio Express-News:“It is important for districts to have a say in the security matters related to their own campuses.”

Actually, districts have a lot of say in school security matters, monitoring services, on-campus ISD police and SRO’s as well as exclusionary discipline facilities, often the result of zero tolerance-based polices that comprise the state’s multi-million dollar school-to-prison pipeline.

The TASB report defines a “school zone” to mean “in, or on the grounds of, or within, 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial, or private school,” which addresses the unclear area, but the school board lobbyists assert the penal code only specifies that “premises” means a building or a portion of a building but does not include public or private driveway, street, sidewalk, walkway, parking lot, parking garage or other parking area. TASB insists on further definition given to exterior campus grounds and/or adjacent outdoor areas as gun-free zones, if they are not covered by the law. They want guns banned on “premises” such as sidewalks, parking lots, and other similar outdoor areas used for educational, athletic, band and other events.

The penal code “prohibits citizens, including handgun license holders from carrying firearms on the physical premises of a school building, any grounds, or building where a school activity is taking place, or on a bus or other passenger vehicle of a school.”

Whitmire offered up ‘no trespass’ signs as a possible solution, posting them at all entrances, including parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and walkways, and then “pursue trespassing charges for those who refuse to conceal their firearms anywhere on the school property,” if need be. Currently, weapon prohibition campus signage is posted at schools. Already, TASB sells code compliant English and Spanish concealed and open handgun prohibition poster sets for public schools that “wish to notify handgun license holders that they are not permitted to enter school buildings with concealed or openly carried handguns.”

In Texas, it is legal to openly carry rifles and other long arm firearms without a permit or license. Under the open carry law, an individual with a legally concealed handgun license will be able to holster open and concealed handguns but these weapons have always been and will remain prohibited on all elementary and high school campuses, reports Firearm Industry News and Information.

Campus carry, a higher education hot button issue that national education lobbyists pounced all over last week, will permit legal handgun concealed license (CHL) holders to carry a concealed handgun at four-year public colleges beginning August 2016 and two-year community colleges in 2017. College presidents will have the ability to designate gun-free zones on campus but cannot ban concealed weapons altogether. Private universities can opt out. Texans must be 21-years-old, complete thorough background checks, and undertake and pass requisite training, including shooting qualification, to obtain a legal CHL, thus, many students will not be eligible.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.