JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and local business owner Jeff Youngblood discussed the state’s new open carry handgun law with members of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce at the chamber’s luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 21.

At the beginning of her presentation, Valdez asked attendees whether or not they already seen anyone openly carrying a handgun in their establishment. Only one person raised his hand.

Valdez then described where citizens are and are not permitted to carry handguns and the options available for business owners.

The new law, which passed this past legislative session and went into effect on Jan. 1, allows individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry guns in public view. Despite opposition from law enforcement, Democrats and other groups, the bill passed both chambers overwhelmingly and was signed by Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Business owners have the option to bar the open or concealed carrying of guns in their establishments, but to do so, they have to post a visibly post a notice in both English and Spanish.

“A merchant can ask to see someone’s concealed handgun license but the person is not required to provide it to the merchant,” Valdez said. “Only law enforcement can take away weapons.”

The sheriff also discussed current debates about whether open carry of handguns is permitted in certain government buildings.

Some government entities will not allow guns inside their buildings, and guns are barred from courtrooms, she said. But the law remains unclear on whether or not one can carry it in a government building outside of the court, Valdez added.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court recently decided guns are not allowed in their buildings.

Questions like that one will likely be resolved in court.

Valdez, who was a vocal opponent of the open carry law, said it is likely people who wanted open carry just want to intimidate or show off their weapons. But, she added, the majority of CHL holders are law-abiding citizens and good people.

If a business owner does not care if a customer carries their handgun openly then that’s fine, she said, adding, “It comes down to what are you as a business owner comfortable with.”

When January came and open carry became law, “we were prepared to get complaints. But so far we’ve had none,” the sheriff noted.

Valdez also pointed out that officers in her department are required to prove each year that they can handle weapons safely. “They also get psychological and aggression tests when hired” she said.

Fortunately, Valdez said, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission law pre-empts open and concealed carry laws when it comes to locations where alcohol is sold or served. If an establishment’s alcohol sales exceed 51 percent of its total sales, then guns are automatically not allowed there. Bar owners, however, still have to post a TABC-sanctioned sign declaring guns are not allowed.

Youngblood, who owns a Fast Signs franchise in Irving, said business owners have to adhere to certain standards when displaying signs.

His company makes the signs in all sorts of shapes, colors and materials, but the state is a stickler about font size and other requirements when it comes to signs banning the open or concealed carrying of a gun.

If  business owners do not want guns on their  property, they must prominently display a sign stating so in both English and Spanish.

The wording must be in all capital letters, each letter no less than one inch tall.

There are still debates when it comes to the right of private business owners, but a business may ban guns inside their office or store.

Nonetheless, guns are allowed in a parking lot or garage.

“It’s practical. If they are carrying but the business does not allow guns, the customer can return to and leave it in their vehicle,” Youngblood said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 22, 2016.