Constitutional Carry confusion leading to increased arrests in the Lone Star State?

Constitutional Carry confusion leading to increased arrests in the Lone Star State?
Ross D. Franklin

While gun control activists love to portray Constitutional or permitless carry as something that allows for individuals to “carry any gun, anywhere, at any time”, the truth is that these laws simply remove the requirement that a legal gun owner obtain a government-issued permission slip before exercising their right to bear arms. In every permitless carry state there are still plenty of laws governing the activities of those who are carrying, including those “sensitive places” where guns can be banned. And as it turns out, in the Lone Star State those laws are apparently being strictly enforced, because the number of people arrested for unlawfully carrying a firearm has exploded in recent months.

Few people are more enthusiastic about carrying handguns than Mike Cargill. The owner of Central Texas Gun Works often carries three ― two concealed, plus one holstered outside his belt.

He’s also enthusiastic about handgun education. Even after the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a “constitutional carry” law, which allows Texans to carry handguns both openly and concealed without getting a license, Cargill kept teaching classes and range qualifications for the now-optional License to Carry Program (LTC). Cargill says a license offers a lot of benefits, not least of which is helping people navigate the state’s complicated gun laws.

And since Texas became one of about half of the states in the country that view carrying a gun as a constitutional right, it looks like people are getting confused by those complicated laws. Several of Cargill’s students over the last year and a half signed up for an LTC class hoping to avoid conviction for unlawfully carrying a weapon ― usually after taking a gun somewhere they shouldn’t have.

When Cargill checked the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website, he found that his experience wasn’t an anomaly. Convictions for unlawfully carrying weapons skyrocketed in the state, from 1,049 in 2020 to nearly 7,000 last year — a spike of 550% and the highest number by far since 2016, the last year of complete data. The state adopted the constitutional carry law in September 2021.

“Yes, it’s your right to carry a gun,” Cargill said. “But you have to know how to carry that gun. If not, that’s a problem.”

Those are just convictions, by the way. The number of arrests for unlawfully carrying is undoubtably even higher, with some cases either dropped by prosecutors or reduced down to less charges.

So what’s going on? Cargill thinks it’s mostly a case of peaceable gun owners not knowing the law and not an influx of individuals carrying with criminal intent, but according to one defense attorney there are generally other issues with those facing charges.

Still, it’s not clear how confusion alone would translate into more gun charges. If someone’s doing a decent job concealing the handgun, they’re not likely to get caught with it.

Instead, many people are charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon only after police arrest them for something else, according to attorney Shane Phelps ― usually drinking and driving, or possession of marijuana.

The only people Phelps regularly sees with unlawfully carrying a weapon as their only charge are felons caught with guns. But Texas tallies the crime of possessing a gun despite a felony conviction separately from unlawfully carrying a weapon.

“That’s kind of a shocking statistic to me ― I don’t have an explanation for it,” Phelpssaid, referring to the increase in charges. “It’s really hard right now in Texas to get arrested for just carrying a weapon.”

Apparently it’s not that hard, though I do wonder how many of these arrests were purely for unlawfully carrying compared to those with underlying crimes like DUI or possession of marijuana. The raw numbers are interesting, but a deeper dive into the data would hopefully be able to tell us more about the circumstances leading to these charges, which would allow for a more focused response.

Either way, the numbers aren’t great, though they also seem to be an anomaly compared to other permitless carry states. At least, I’m not aware of any similar spike in arrests or convictions for unlawfully carrying in other permitless carry states, though it’s worth exploring the data to see if Texas really is an outlier. As Cargill points out, there are some places in Texas that are off-limits under permitless carry but allowed with a carry license; a confusing distinction that lawmakers should revisit.

Still, it’s ultimately up to those of us who are carrying to know what the laws are, including where you can carry. The laws in Texas may need some revising, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored in the meantime… a lesson that thousands of Lone Star Staters have learned the hard way over the last few months.