Texas lawmakers hoping to make it legal to openly carry handguns in the state often point to a surprising statistic: Texas is one of just six states that prohibit it. That may soon change, if a measure lifting some of the state’s handgun restrictions continues to advance in the Legislature.
But a Texas Tribune analysis of gun laws nationwide shows the “one-in-six” figure paints an incomplete picture — particularly when it comes to allowing open carry in highly populated urban areas. That's because many of the nation's biggest cities are congregated in the states that prohibit it.
If Texas passes Republican Sen. Craig Estes' bill, which would allow permit-holders to openly carry holstered handguns, Houston and Dallas would become the largest metropolitan areas in the nation to allow it. Among the top five metro areas by population, they would be the only two where handguns could be carried openly.
“If open carry is good enough for Massachusetts, it’s good enough for the state of Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has promised he will sign open carry legislation if it reaches his desk, said shortly after he was elected in November.
The state Senate has already approved Estes' bill, which currently awaits consideration in the House.
Under Estes' proposal, Texas would become an outlier among states with large urban populations, a category currently occupied by Georgia and Arizona. With the exception of South Carolina, states that prohibit open carry — Texas, Florida, California, Illinois and New York — are also home to the country’s largest cities.
Meanwhile, the laws in other states with urban areas that allow open carry tend to be more restrictive than what’s proposed in Texas' bill.
Philadelphia, the sixth largest metro area after Houston, allows open carry. But it requires those who wish to carry a handgun to apply in person with the local police department. The process used to require two personal references — that requirement was discontinued after license holders brought a class action lawsuit against the city for violating their rights to confidentiality. And the city, which has earned complaints from gun rights groups for being resistant to open carry, is currently entangled in yet another lawsuit with the National Rifle Association over its firearms ordinances.
In Massachusetts, open carry is technically legal. But to obtain a license, residents must first get permission from their local police chiefs, who are given discretion to reject applicants they deem “not a suitable person.”
In Detroit, state law requires a license to purchase handguns, which must be registered with local law enforcement. Minneapolis also requires a license to purchase handguns.
Review handgun laws in other cities in the chart below, which includes the top 20 largest urban populations according to metro area and municipal boundaries: