New Concealed Handgun Law Won't Stop Prosecution

8-30-05 - A new law aimed at reducing the number of arrests for unlawful handgun possession won't deter Harris County district attorneys from prosecuting motorists arrested on concealed handgun charges.

"It is still going to be against the law for (unlicensed) persons to carry handguns in autos," Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Monday, adding that the new legal defense can still be challenged by prosecutors.

The new law, effective Thursday, clarifies a law that allowed Texans to carry handguns while traveling. The new law says a person is "presumed to be traveling" if he or she is in a private vehicle, is not engaged in criminal activity (except for a minor traffic offense), is not prohibited by any other law from possessing a firearm and is not a member of a criminal street gang.

Motorists must conceal the gun in the car.

"The intent of the law is to keep innocent people from going to jail," said the sponsor, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin.

The National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union supported the law. Some law enforcement groups opposed it.

More than 237,000 Texans have concealed handgun licenses. Others don't qualify for licenses, not because of public safety, but because they have defaulted on student loans, owe the state sales tax or are behind in child support payments, said Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, an NRA affiliate.

Keel said he hoped the law will cause police officers to think twice about arresting motorists who meet the new legal presumption.

However, Rosenthal said the new presumption about "traveling" doesn't define what constitutes traveling and can be challenged in court.