Although the Texas Constitution protects the right to bear arms for legal self-defense, it also gives the state the power to regulate carrying guns in order to prevent crime (Tex. Const. art. I, § 23). The state has no laws that restrict carrying rifles and shotguns, other than general gun prohibitions for a few people (including recent felons) and at at few places (such as K-12 schools). But Texas does require a license to carry a handgun—either concealed or openly—away from your own property. Read on for details about the state’s gun carry laws.
It’s illegal in Texas to carry a handgun without a license (either intentionally or recklessly), unless you are:
License holders must carry their handguns either concealed or in a shoulder or belt holster; otherwise, it’s a crime for a license holder to purposefully display the handgun in a public place, unless it was under circumstances that would allow using force (such as in self-defense). It’s also illegal to carry a handgun while you’re intoxicated.
If you don’t have a license, you may not carry a handgun in plain view in your vehicle or boat. It’s also illegal to carry a handgun in a vehicle or boat if you’re engaged in criminal activity (other than traffic or boating violations), are a member of a criminal street gang, or are prohibited from possessing any firearm (as discussed below).
However, these restrictions do not apply to people who are:
The law doesn’t say what counts as “traveling,” so it would be up to the court to make that decision in any particular case. Depending on the circumstances, you may be charged with a misdemeanor or a third-degree felony for violating these restrictions. (Tex. Penal Code §§ 46.02, 46.15.)
In order to qualify for a license to carry a handgun, you must successfully complete a gun-safety course and demonstrate your ability to use a handgun properly. Among the other eligibility requirements, you must also:
(Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 411.172, 411.174, 411.188; Tex. Penal Code §§ 46.035(a), 46.04.)
In order to get a handgun carry license, you must also be eligible under both federal and state law to buy a handgun. Federal prohibitions on gun purchases and possession apply to a broader group of people than Texas restrictions, including those who:
(Tex. Gov't Code § 411.172; 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).)
Whether or not you have a license to carry a handgun, it’s a third-degree felony to have any guns in certain Texas locations, including:
It's a crime for license holders to bring handguns to some other places, including bars, hospitals, and sporting events. But they won't be prosecuted unless the establishment has prominent signs, in both English and Spanish, that handguns are prohibited. Even if property owners have posted signs banning handguns, Texas law specifically allows license holders to carry handguns on the way to or from condos, apartments, and other residential units that they own, rent, or are visiting as guests.
All of these restrictions have exceptions for certain on-duty officers and personnel, including volunteers providing emergency services. (Tex. Gov’t Code § 411.204; Tex. Penal Code §§ 30.06, 46.03, 46.035.)
Texas law specifically allows license holders to carry concealed handguns on post-secondary school campuses. Public colleges, universities, and technical institutes may establish reasonable safety rules for carrying concealed handguns in certain buildings, as long as those rules don't have the effect of prohibiting license holders from bringing the weapons anywhere on campus. However, a private or independent post-secondary school may prohibit license holders from carrying concealed handguns on its campus, in its passenger vehicles, or anywhere it is sponsoring an activity.
It’s Class A misdemeanor in Texas for a license holder to carry a visible handgun on a college or university campus, or to carry a concealed handgun where the institution’s rules prohibit it. (Tex. Educ. Code § 61.003; Tex. Gov’t Code § 411.2031; Tex. Penal Code § 46.035.)
If you’ve been charged a crime for violating the Texas rules on carrying guns, you should consult with a qualified criminal defense lawyer who can help you prepare the best defense possible.
Look Out for Legal Changes
States can change their laws at any time, but you can check the current Texas statutes by using this search tool. However, court decisions may also affect the interpretation and application of laws, which is another good reason to speak with an attorney if you’re worried about actual or potential criminal charges for carrying a gun.
Updated September 5, 2019