Texas is a state that has strong legal protections for people’s rights to carry weapons for the purposes of self-defense. However, there are a few laws that make it unlawful to carry weapons under certain conditions in the Lone Star State. Police and prosecutors will pursue charges when they believe someone has violated Texas laws relating to unlawfully carrying a weapon. Referred to as UCW, these laws make it illegal for certain people to possess specific types of weapons in some public places.
Weapons that are covered by UCW laws include firearms, certain types of knives, clubs, and more. Most criminal offenses involving UCW in Texas are Class A misdemeanors, but under some circumstances, an offense can be charged as a third-degree felony. These are serious criminal offenses that call for a strong defense.
An experienced criminal defense attorney at Cofer & Connelly, PLLC can protect your rights and help ensure that your case is resolved on the most favorable grounds possible, considering your circumstances.
The Criminal Offense of Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon in Texas
In general, it is legal to have a gun or other weapon on property that you own or have control over, so long as you’re not a convicted felon or someone else who is forbidden by law from owning guns. The right to possess a weapon for self-defense also extends to your vehicle or boat, where most people are allowed to have a firearm, knife, club, or certain other defensive weapons in their possession at all times because they are on their own property.
There are certain circumstances, though, that someone can find themselves facing UCW charges in Texas. For example, it’s illegal to carry a weapon in public if the person carrying the firearm is legally forbidden from gun possession. Someone can also be charged with this offense if they take a weapon into a prohibited place as defined by law or where there is a notice that weapons are forbidden on certain private property. Possession of any type of weapon listed as prohibited by Texas law can also result in UCW charges.
Who Is Allowed to Carry a Weapon in Texas?
There are some people who are forbidden from having guns or other weapons in their possession in public places. People who can’t have a gun in public in Texas include those who:
- Are under 21
- Have been convicted of a felony or family violence misdemeanor
- Are involved in any criminal activity beyond a Class C misdemeanor violation of traffic or boating laws
- Are intoxicated, other than at home or within a vehicle they own or have permission to be in
- Are members of criminal street gangs, which law officers may identify by their gang tattoos, gang colors, gang hand signs, or association with other known members
- Are subject to a protective order that they have received notice of, other than active-duty law enforcement officers who may continue to carry a weapon on the job despite being subject to a protective order
Recent changes to Texas law in 2021 allow open carry by all non-restricted citizens. Under new state law, no one who isn’t explicitly forbidden by law from carrying a weapon should face criminal consequences for carrying a handgun or rifle in a public place, even if they don’t possess a license. There are still situations and locations wherein carrying a weapon is forbidden, however, so there is not an absolutely unlimited right to carry weapons at any time and any place.
Additionally, some people are expressly excluded from most unlawful carrying of a weapon restrictions. Individuals who are broadly permitted to carry lawful weapons include:
- Active-duty law enforcement officers
- Court officers
- Licensed security officers
- People traveling through the area
- Some military members
- Holders of a license to carry
- People who have alcoholic beverage sales permits
- Those involved in certain historical reenactments involving weapons
So long as these people follow the rules and regulations of their profession or other activity that grants them an exception from UCW prohibitions, they are generally exempt from UCW laws.
Where Are Weapons Forbidden in Texas?
There are a few locations where guns are completely forbidden, except by law enforcement officers on active duty. Some of the places where guns are not allowed include:
- Any business with an alcohol license that gets more than half its revenue from alcohol sales
- On the premises of jails and prisons
- The secure area of airports
- Amusement parks
- Offices where government meetings are held
- Private institutions of higher learning that prohibit handguns
- Private property that provides a visible written notice that guns are not allowed
Anyone other than peace officers who tries to bring a gun into these forbidden zones might face prosecution under the UCW laws in Texas.
Types of Weapons That Are Prohibited in Texas
While gun ownership is strongly protected in the state, the State of Texas still regulates a number of different kinds of weapons. Some weapons that are prohibited under certain circumstances include:
- Explosive devices
- Machine guns
- Location-restricted knives, which are those knives with a blade longer than 5.5 inches, when held by anyone under 18
- Chemical dispensing devices that are designed to deliver a chemical substance that can cause adverse reactions, other than small commercially available personal protective devices
- Zip guns—devices that aren’t initially a firearm but have been adapted or made to shoot a projectile through a barrel
- Tire deflation devices, including spike strips that are made to puncture car tires
Most prohibited weapons are broadly forbidden anywhere in the state, whether on private property or in public. Except for knives and guns, which are allowed in most places when they are in the hands of people who aren’t forbidden from gun or knife ownership by virtue of their age or other exclusion, the weapons on the prohibited list are absolutely forbidden except for by law enforcement or military ownership.
Punishments for Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon in Texas
Most criminal offenses related to UCW in Texas are charged as Class A misdemeanors. Being convicted of these charges can result in a sentence of up to one year in jail and fines of $4,000. In some cases involving carrying a handgun onto licensed premises that make more than half of their income from alcohol sales, a charge can be classified as a third-degree felony. A conviction can result in a sentence of two-to-ten years in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000.
Some Potential Defenses to Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon Charges in Texas
There are potential defenses that can be raised against charges of unlawfully carrying a weapon. An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the facts of any given case and determine which defenses may be appropriate under specific circumstances.
State of Mind
The UCW law requires a specific state of mind. Meaning, if someone isn’t in a specific state of mind when acting, they can’t be rightfully convicted of a UCW offense. The law says that a person commits an offense when they “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” carry a weapon in violation of the law. A defense lawyer can assess the charges and the alleged evidence in support of the case to determine whether there are substantial facts upon which to base an argument that the accused didn’t have the required state of mind when carrying the weapon. In other words, if the activity at the heart of the criminal case wasn’t done with intent, knowledge, or recklessness, it’s unlikely the prosecutor will be able to rightfully secure a conviction.
Not a Prohibited Person
Some UCW charges stem from an allegation that the person in possession of the weapon was prohibited from possessing a gun. They might, for example, be a gang member or someone subject to a protective order. A capable defense attorney, though, might argue that the accused wasn’t in the prohibited class of individuals, either because of mistaken identity, erroneous assumptions by law enforcement about the person, or even a case where a protective order was never properly served and delivered to the person who is subject to it, so they didn’t know that they were subject to the terms of a protective order. There are many cases wherein law enforcement officers make assumptions about someone being arrested, such that they believe them to be in a street gang for example, which could lead to UCW charges but might later turn out to be false. In those cases, the charges against the accused might be dropped.
There are many cases where mistakes are made in the process of arrest, investigation, or bringing criminal charges that cause improper prejudice against the accused. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can argue that the flawed procedural process has caused an unacceptable error in the process, which calls for evidence to be excluded from court or charges to be dropped.
Underlying Offense Invalid
Oftentimes, people run afoul of UCW laws because they have a gun in their car or other motor vehicle when they are stopped for an unrelated offense, like a DWI or investigation of a drug offense. In most of these cases, the unlawful carrying of a weapon offense might hinge on the validity of the other crime that was charged along with the UCW charge. If the state is unable to prove all the elements of that underlying criminal charge, the UCW charge will often go away as well.
Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon Attorney in Texas
Criminal charges related to the unlawful carrying of a weapon in Texas can be intimidating and confusing. Prosecutors typically file the maximum charges that they can in a case, even charging multiple crimes under different sections of laws, with the idea that they hope something will “stick” and result in a conviction. It’s important to have a skilled advocate aggressively protecting your interests in the face of an overeager prosecutor.
A skilled defense attorney is your best ally against the threat of jail time and damage to your reputation that can occur as a result of a conviction for unlawful carrying of a weapon charges. Contact Cofer & Connelly, PLLC today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can fight back against any UCW charges that you may be facing. Call (512) 991-0576 or reach us online to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. We look forward to speaking with you.
"Excellent all around. Highly recommend."W. N.
"I am eternally grateful for all of the efforts they put in to go above and beyond for everyone they help."Former Client
"They really listen to and care about their client's needs and consistently fight for the best outcome! I am eternally grateful for all of the effort they put in to go above and beyond for everyone they help."C.D.
65 Years of Experience