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Austin police talk ‘open carry’ at safety commission

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 by Jack Craver

The Austin Police Department expects to be fielding more gun-related 911 calls after Texas’ recently passed open carry law takes effect in January. The new law allows licensed gun owners to have their weapons visibly holstered in public, but many people may continue to be alarmed by those who choose to pack heat openly.

In a presentation to the Public Safety Commission, Officer Michael Barker of the APD training department described how officers would continue to respond to reports of people carrying firearms, but would also be sensitive to the newly enshrined right. While gun carriers are required to produce a license if asked by a police officer, they shouldn’t expect to be constantly harassed by law enforcement either, said Barker.

“We’re not going to go up to every citizen and ask them for their handgun license,” he said. “That would be unreasonable.”

However, unholstering a gun for any reason is a great way to immediately interact with police. “If somebody has a handgun, and they’re pulling it out of the holster and displaying it, it’s probably calculated to alarm the public, and we’ll respond to that situation,” said Barker.

There is no penalty for failing to produce a license upon request from a police officer, but those who cannot prove they are licensed may be arrested for carrying without a license, even if the charges are later dropped.

Barker explained that, similar to its past practices, the department will classify gun reports in two categories: “Hot Shots” and “Urgent.” The former refers to incidents in which a person is brandishing a gun, while the latter refers to incidents in which a person’s gun is still holstered but is nevertheless causing concern to the person who is making the 911 call.

Commissioner Ed Scruggs cited a shooting in Colorado Springs five weeks ago, in which a witness alleged that her report of a man carrying a weapon was dismissed by a police dispatcher because of the state’s open carry law. He asked how Austin dispatchers would distinguish between those legally exercising their rights and those whose behavior represents a threat.

Brian Manley, chief of staff to Police Chief Art Acevedo, said that dispatchers will ask specific questions to gauge the threat level. Are they creating a disturbance? Are they near a sensitive location, such as a school?

“Based on their activity or their location, that will show where they’ll fall within the spectrum of our response,” Manley said.

If sight of the weapon is the only concern given in a 911 call, dispatchers will explain to citizens that Texas is now an open carry state. The police will dispatch an officer as long as the person expresses concern, said Manley, “but it will be a very different response than if this person was waving a weapon around in front of an elementary school.”

Those with handgun licenses but without carrying permits Gun owners may still keep a gun in their car, as long as it’s concealed.

Another issue of concern was how local businesses respond to open carry. As is already the case with regard to concealed carry, businesses will be able to post signs informing customers that they are not allowed to openly carry weapons in the establishment. Patrons who ignore the signs will be subject to prosecution for trespassing, said Barker. But that is only the case if the business posts a sign at the entrance informing entrants of the gun prohibition.

“If there’s no sign, there’s no violation,” said Manley in response to questions from commissioners.

Asked by Commissioner Michael Levy what he thought about open carry, Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday said, “We did the best we could at the Legislature and weren’t happy with where it ended up.”

This story has been corrected. Gun owners may legally keep concealed guns in their cars without a concealed handgun licence.

New Hampshire Open Carry 2009” by Lucio EastmanFree State Project – PorcFest 2009 – Open Carry. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

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