By Ken Camp
Some Texas Baptist congregations rang in the New Year by posting signs prohibiting openly carried handguns inside their church buildings — or updating signs already banning concealed handguns.
Effective Jan. 1, Texans with firearms licenses are allowed to carry holstered handguns openly in most public places, except court buildings, jails, polling places, schools, bars and secure areas of airports.
Churches — along with hospitals, nursing homes and amusement parks — can ban guns, but only if they provide proper notice to licensed gun owners.
Each congregation has the right to determine if it wants to allow both openly carried and concealed handguns, concealed but not openly carried handguns, openly carried but not concealed handguns, or no handguns, regardless of whether or not they are concealed or openly carried, said John Litzler, legal consultant with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“We’ve noticed that Baptist churches vary all across the spectrum in the options they are choosing,” Litzler said.
Churches that want to allow licensed gun owners to carry their handguns openly or concealed do not need to take any action. But if congregations want to prohibit some or all handguns in church buildings, they need to follow guidelines stipulated in the Texas Penal Code Sections 30.06 and 30.07.
If a church wants to bar handguns — either concealed, openly carried or both — in its facility, one option is to distribute a document such as a card, worship guide or church bulletin giving notice to every person who enters the building.
Another option is for congregations to post signs at each entrance to the church’s property. Depending on a church’s location, that could be a sign posted at each driveway entrance from the street, not necessarily at every door to the church facility, Litzler said.
However, he noted, churches only can bar handguns inside their buildings, even though a “common-sense definition” of church property would include parking lots and other areas owned by a congregation.
“Under the penal code, however, premises means a building or portion of a building and does not include a public or private driveway, a sidewalk or walkway, or a parking area,” Litzler said. “It is important for churches to know that while they may place signs in these areas as notice that no guns will be allowed inside the building, the signs do not prohibit open or concealed carry in areas of church property that aren’t considered the church premises.”
The penal code also provides specific instruction regarding any signs a church posts barring handguns.
“If the church chooses to notify license holders by posting a sign, the sign must be in both English and in Spanish, appear in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height, and be displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public,” Litzler wrote in an article posted on the BGCT website.
However a church provides notice, the law stipulates specific language for the written communication.
To prohibit openly carried handguns, the notice must say: “Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly.”
To ban concealed handguns, the notice must say: “Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun.”
The wording reflects new language approved by the Texas Legislature, and signs posted before Jan. 1 may contain outdated language, Litzler noted.