Weapons offenses: Criminal charges and possible penalties in Texas
While Texas is considered a state with fairly loose gun laws with wide latitude for legal gun owners, it is still surprisingly easy to be charged with a crime. The state authorities do not take these offenses lightly, and you could easily end up facing serious felony charges if you are accused of violating many Texas weapon laws.
Serious weapons offenses in Texas can include:
- Illegally possessing or carrying a weapon,
- Improperly discharging a gun, or
- Using a weapon in the commission of a crime.
And, you can be charged not just for having or using an illegal weapon yourself, but also if you sell or give one to another person, or allow a child to get access to an unsecured firearm. Even if you have a legal right to possess or carry a weapon, you may be charged if you aren’t careful who you allow to use it.
Open Handgun Carry Laws
As of January 1st, 2016, Texas is officially an open-carry state for handguns.
However, many people don’t understand that you still must have a concealed handgun license to open carry, or you can face criminal charges.
Other weapons possession or carry charges frequently arise out of encounters with the police, such as traffic stops or stop-and-frisks on the street. The police also may charge you if they receive a tip from an informant that you have a weapon, or if they find one while arresting you on an unrelated charge.
While some weapons offenses are misdemeanors, a conviction can still have serious effects on your life because future employers and others who view your criminal record may consider it similar to a crime of violence.
What Weapons Are Illegal to Possess in Texas?
It’s important to remember that weapons aren’t limited to just guns under the Texas Penal Code. Illegal possession, carry and use offenses also apply to everything from clubs to chemical sprays to knives.
Texas criminal law prohibits the possession of certain weapons outright, except in cases of antiques, curios, or those licensed by the federal government. Prohibited weapons are:
- Explosive weapons such as grenades, bombs and rockets.
- Machine guns
- Rifles with barrels less than 16 inches long
- Shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long.
- Any rifle or shotgun altered so that the entire weapon is less than 26 inches long.
- Switchblades knives.
- Brass knuckles.
- Improvised handguns, also known as “zip guns.”
Illegal possession of a switchblade or brass knuckles is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in a county jail and a fine of up to $4,000. The rest are third-degree felonies, which means they can get you 2 to 10 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
It also is illegal for a person convicted of any felony or a misdemeanor domestic assault to possess any kind of firearm within five years of being released from jail, prison or probation. After that, the person can only possess a firearm at home. Possession is a third-degree felony with a felony conviction and a Class A misdemeanor with a domestic assault conviction.
Giving or selling a gun to someone who isn’t allowed to have one – such as a convicted felon or an intoxicated person – is also a Class A misdemeanor. Selling or giving a handgun to a minor without a parent’s permission is a state jail felony. And leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm where a child can get to it is a Class C misdemeanor, unless someone is killed or seriously injured, in which case it is a Class A.
Illegally carrying a weapon in Texas
Unless you have a state license to carry a concealed handgun, it is illegal for you to carry around any kind of weapon in Texas, except under certain limited circumstances.
That is, you’re are allowed to carry a weapon to your car to transport it, and you are allowed to carry a weapon at your home or a place you control, such as your place of business. If the weapon is in your car, it has to be hidden from plain view.
For the purposes of the carry laws, the Texas Penal Code defines weapons as:
- Clubs such as nightsticks and blackjacks.
- Illegal knives such as knives with blades more than 5 ½ inches long, Bowie knives, swords, and spears.
Illegally carrying a weapon is a Class A misdemeanor, unless you do it at a business licensed to sell alcohol, a school, a polling place on election day, a court, or a racetrack. Then it becomes a third-degree felony.
Even those with handgun licenses are not allowed to openly carry their guns where other people can see them, or carry their handguns in the places listed above. License holders also cannot carry their guns in churches, hospitals, amusement parks, or at government meetings or sporting events. Doing so is a Class A misdemeanor, unless it was at a business selling alcohol. That’s a third-degree felony.
Texas Gun Crimes – Penalties
Carrying or possessing a weapon illegally is one thing, using it is another. Texas law makes it a crime to fire a gun in public unless in defense of yourself or another person, and enhances the penalties for using a gun in the commission of certain crimes.
Firing a gun in a public place falls under the disorderly conduct statute and is a Class B misdemeanor, except inside the city limits of a town with a population of more than 100,000 people. In that case, it becomes a Class A misdemeanor.
Using a gun, whether you fire it or not, while committing a violent crime such as robbery, assault, or sexual assault can automatically increase the offense to an “aggravated” status, making it a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.
If you carry a gun while committing other non-violent offenses, you also may not have the option of community supervision, instead of prison, if convicted. In some cases, even if you get community supervision, you will still be required to serve at least 90 days in jail.
The seriousness of weapons charges in Texas means it is imperative that you seek the help of a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can. We will be able to assess the evidence and either fight the charges, such as by trying to have the weapon suppressed as the fruit of an illegal search, or negotiate a plea deal to a lesser charge.