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Limiting Guns at Texas Businesses? It’s a Legal — and Legalese — Fight

December 28, 2014

By Laylan Copelin – Austin American-Statesman

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America isn’t the first group to suspect that a lawmaker wrote a law to be more cumbersome than it has to be.

They argue that the Legislature intentionally crafted an ugly, eye-glazing, space-zapping warning sign that Texas business owners must post at every entrance if they don’t want their customers legally packing a concealed handgun on the premises.

In this case, however, they have an ally in the man who wrote the language — if you can call such legalese a language.

“They’re correct,” says Jerry Patterson, the state land commissioner who was the primary architect of the state’s concealed handgun laws almost 20 years ago when he was a senator.

Patterson explained that he intentionally made the sign’s language cumbersome so as to discourage businesses from curbing the right to bear arms while shopping or eating out or buying shoes.

Patterson explained that there was mindset after the law passed that “we’re all going to die” from people carrying concealed handguns.

“That mindset has pretty much gone away,” he said.

So have a lot of the signs that by law must read:

“Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by holder of license to carry a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (concealed handgun law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun”

The warning must be repeated in Spanish, the letters are to be one-inch high and in contrasting colors.

“It’s called the big ugly sign law,” said Kellye Burke, a Houston member of Moms Demand Action. “Literally, it’s the size of my five-year-old.”

Either a lot of business owners support their customers being armed, or they want to reserve their entrances to advertise their 2-for-1 sales, based on my casual observation.

The business owners still seem to find room, however, for “This is a smoke-free area” or “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.”

The MOMs, however, are not trying just to beautify our Texas storefronts.

The signage requirement also includes nonprofits, museums, hospitals and even houses of worship.

The Moms Demand Action members say some gun owners are “gaming” the system by ignoring a property owner’s wishes if the sign doesn’t fit literally the one-inch letter of the law or violates other specifics.

They showed me numerous screen shots listing establishments with allegedly illegal signs. The assumption, at least based on the Internet conversations, is that an armed customer can’t be convicted of criminal trespass if the sign isn’t technically correct.

“We saw it was being deliberately exploited by ‘law abiding’ gun owners,” Burke said. “From a mom’s perspective, if I’m at the hospital with my child and see a no guns sign, I shouldn’t have to worry that the mom next to me has a gun.”

Volunteers with Moms Demand Action have quietly begun warning businesses with signs that might not comply with the law.

Get out your tape measures!

Alice Tripp with the Texas State Rifle Association has lobbied on gun laws for 18 years.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” she said. “I’ve never heard a business complain.”

She said the warning signs have gone down over the years as concealed gun carriers have proved to be responsible.

“You don’t get a license to break the law,” she said.

Today, Tripp said there are 811,000 Texans with a license to carry a concealed handgun.

“I think the Moms have a different agenda,” Tripp said.

They do.

At a minimum, the Moms Demand Action members would like the signs to be simplified.

More business might choose to post a simple sign and it would be harder to claim a technical defense to criminal trespass with a gun.

Ironically, Patterson agrees it’s time to simplify the language, but not for those reasons.

He predicts the Legislature will soon pass legislation allowing Texans to openly carry handguns.

He said he could envision some businesses welcoming the open carrying of handguns on their premises, while others would allow concealed pistols and still others wouldn’t want firearms at all.

“I’m not opposed to changing the signage,” Patterson said. “But it’s not as simple as people make it out to be.”

I can’t wait to see how our lawmakers tackle that language.

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