In the state of Texas, businesses that want their premises to be off-limits to the carrying of firearms are required to post signage alerting gun owners to that fact. It’s a pretty simple and reasonable requirement, and the signs themselves aren’t hard to find. A new federal lawsuit filed by a coffee shop and a church in the Houston area, however, claims that the requirement is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The suit, which is being supported by Everytown for Gun Safety’s in-house law firm, claims that the free speech rights of those wanting to ban guns from their property has been burdened by the requirement that they must display the signage as required by the state legislature, instead of being able to use whatever sign they want.
If these property owners use other means of indicating that firearms are not welcome on the premises—even if entirely reasonable and understandable—they cannot avail themselves of Texas’s criminal trespass laws. By contrast, property owners who wish to exclude others for any other reason at all do not face these same burdens. This viewpoint-based discrimination was entirely intentional; the Texas state land commissioner who drafted these requirements admits that he “intentionally made the sign’s language cumbersome” to discourage businesses from prohibiting entry to customers carrying guns.
Moms Demand Action has been complaining about the signage for at least two years. Back in 2018, the Austin American-Statesman devoted an entire article to the issue, highlighting the gun control group’s opposition to the signage requirement.
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.”
Frankly, if you think a “no guns” sign is automatically going to stop criminals from carrying a firearm, you’ve got much bigger problems with the size of the sign.
This lawsuit is a pretty blatant attempt to not only make it easier for establishments to legally ban guns from their property, but to actually encourage businesses to take that step.
As for the claim that former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson intentionally designed the signage to make it a burden to post, he calls the claim “bogus“.
“They’re complaining that the sign is too prominent essentially,” Patterson told Houston Public Media. “But if it’s that important to them, would they feel good with a two-inch-by-two-inch sign that had a handgun with a red circle around it and a red diagonal bar across it that nobody’s going to see?”
He also pointed out that the signs are not actually required. Gun carriers must leave a property if the owner tells them verbally that firearms are not welcome.
The lawsuit addresses this by saying that it would be impractical to advise each person who enters and would require hiring an employee just to do that.
“Decisions about how to protect worshippers and create a welcome environment are important to any congregation, and the requirements we’re challenging make those decisions far more complicated,” Bruce Beisner, minister of Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church, said in a statement. “Our hope is to make it easier for houses of worship across the state to put in place the practices around firearms that make sense for them.”
Or, you know, you can just post the required signage and then the problem disappears.
I suspect that this lawsuit isn’t going anywhere, but for Texas gun owners it should be another warning sign that Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group has its eyes on the Lone Star State. The group is already spending millions of dollars this election cycle in an attempt to flip the state House, and if they get a foothold in the legislature, expect a spate of gun control legislation to be filed along with their anti-Second Amendment lawsuits.