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House Panel Weighs Property, Gun Rights

UPDATED: Business groups are weighing in on gun legislation, trying to preserve a business owner's rights to ban guns from private property. A House committee took up the question up Tuesday.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Tuesday's House Homeland and Public Safety Committee hearing.

With the Legislature almost certain to loosen restrictions on how and where people can carry handguns, a House committee Tuesday considered streamlining the process for businesses to ban guns on their private property.

House Bill 2405 by state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, would make it possible for any business owner with an internet connection and printer to obtain a “no guns” sign.

The bill creates a standard design for signs to ban handguns from a place of business — a “pictogram that shows, on a white background, a handgun drawn in black ink within a red circle and diagonal red line across the handgun” — and calls for a printable copy of the sign to be available on the Texas Department of Public Safety website.

“If you own a business and want to keep somebody out if they’ve got a gun, you should be able to do it simply,” Nevárez said Tuesday at a House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee hearing.

The measure would also enable the use of smaller signs, no bigger than 8.5 by 11 inches, by shortening the statutory language required to appear on the sign. Current law requires the “30.06” signs — nicknamed for the provision of Texas law that allows businesses to ban guns on their premises — to include text from that provision in English and Spanish, with block letters at least one inch in height.

“The requirements under Texas state law are so onerous, a compliant sign ends up being about as big as a pony,” Anna Kehde, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement.

But gun rights advocates worry the smaller signs would be harder to spot and lead to conflict when gun owners unknowingly bring their weapons into a gun-free business.

“They need to be able to see it, if possible, before they get out of their car,” said Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association. “That’s where they’re going to end up leaving their handgun.”

“It’s bad enough right now where the shop owners keep their signs,” said CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas. “If they put them on, for example, a sliding door, a lot of people won’t see those.”

HB 2405 requires signs to be posted “at each exterior entrance” and “in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public.”

Nevárez said some gun owners purposely exploit businesses that don’t want guns on their property but don’t post proper “no guns” signs. He said he recently went to see a movie with a friend who was carrying a concealed handgun, and the theater had posted a picture of a gun inside a red circle with a diagonal slash across the gun. It was a clear indication that the theater didn’t want firearms inside, Nevárez said, but it was not enforceable because the sign didn’t meet state requirements. Nevárez’s friend brought his weapon into the theater anyway.

“When these two things clash, my idea to harmonize it is to make it easier for the business to display their intent,” he said. “You have all these people that go around testing these businesses.”

Nevárez’s bill, heard in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, is a small counterpunch against legislation that passed the Senate last month that would allow gun owners with concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons openly in public, and allow concealed handguns on college campuses. Similar bills were approved by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee last month and sent to the full House.

The House measure to allow licensed gun owners to carry their weapons openly, House Bill 910 by committee Chairman Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, requires businesses to display separate signs to prohibit concealed weapons and openly carried weapons.

The debate over “no guns” signs revolves around competing Second Amendment and private property rights.

The House and Senate bills to allow concealed handguns on college campuses give private universities, like private businesses, the option to ban guns on their premises — a provision some say should apply to public institutions as well.

The Texas Association of Business sent a letter last month to the House committee urging members to maintain the right of business owners to decide whether or not to allow guns on their property.

“TAB also opposes any attempts to require a business owner to provide additional notice [other] than stated in current law to exercise their rights to ban handguns from their place of business,” the letter said.

“This [bill] allows families who prefer to avoid guns when they shop to easily identify gun-free businesses,” said Grace Chimene, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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