In Texas, as in many states, it is illegal for a person to possess a firearm if there is a felony conviction on their criminal record. A valid permit is also required to possess a firearm in Texas, so possessing a firearm without a permit is illegal under most circumstances.
Texas law also prohibits certain people from possessing a firearm under any circumstances. These offenses are all known as “unlawful possession of a firearm” in Texas.
Who Can Carry a Handgun in Texas?
A new law took effect in Texas in 2021. It addresses carrying a handgun in the state. A person does not need a license to carry a handgun in public in Texas if the person meets the following requirements:
- Is at least 21 years old;
- Does not have a prior felony conviction;
- Has not recently been convicted of certain types of misdemeanors as described in the Texas Penal Code;
- Is not subject to an unexpired protective order as described in the Texas Penal Code;
- Has not been restricted from possessing a firearm under federal law as described in the U.S. Code;
- Is not in an intoxicated condition, except in certain situations as described in the Texas Penal Code.
This new law does not confer a right to carry a handgun on anyone prohibited before the new law took effect.
How Does Texas Define Unlawful Gun Possession?
Unlawful gun possession is defined as having a firearm under the following circumstances:
- The person has a prior felony conviction;
- The person is currently subject to a domestic violence restraining order;
- The person is present in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa;
- The person was dishonorably discharged by the military;
- The person has been convicted of a misdemeanor assault against a family or household member;
- The person is the subject of a protective order.
Under any of these circumstances, possession of a firearm is a crime in Texas. A person must also be old enough to possess a gun. A person must be 18 to buy a rifle. To buy a handgun, a person must be 21 years old. An underage person cannot legally own a firearm; however, a minor can legally use a firearm to defend themselves or to hunt.
If I Can Carry a Gun, Can I Carry It Everywhere?
Even if a person possesses a gun legally, it is still against the law to carry the firearm into any area designated by law as a gun-free zone in Texas. The specific areas that are considered gun-free zones are the following:
- The campus and building of any public school;
- Any place in which a school activity or event is taking place;
- Buildings in which courts are located;
- Polling places;
- Established gun-free zones on college campuses;
- Businesses that derive more than 50% of their income from selling alcohol.
A person can legally carry their handgun if traveling to or from their own home.
If a business has posted a sign proclaiming itself a gun-free zone, a person can be prosecuted if they choose to bring their weapon into the business.
Can I Carry a Gun in Some Places Even If I Do Not Have a License?
A person can carry a weapon without a permit if they are on their own property. Even if 5 years have passed since a person has been released from imprisonment after being convicted of a felony, the person still cannot carry a weapon on their own property without a permit.
A person who is not a convicted felon or otherwise disqualified can also carry a firearm in their vehicle or boat in plain sight while they travel without a license or permit. The Texas Penal Code prohibits anyone actively involved in criminal activity from carrying a gun in a vehicle or watercraft.
Can I Carry a Gun If I Am a Member of a Criminal Gang
Another important law regarding guns in Texas is the law that prohibits a person from possessing a firearm if the police suspect that the person is a member of a criminal street gang.
According to Texas law, a criminal street gang is a group of three or more individuals who regularly commit crimes. The group must also have some sign to be considered a criminal street gang. It could be a specific color that they were, a logo, a hand sign, a tattoo, or a symbol. The criminal street gang also must have a leader.
While a person might not be a gang member, they might be mistaken for one by police officers. If an officer suspects that a person is involved in gang-related activity AND the person has a firearm, the officer may choose to arrest the person for unlawfully carrying a weapon.
Intoxication is also an issue when it comes to carrying a gun. If a person is intoxicated, they are no longer legally permitted to carry their firearm. In addition, most bars and taverns are considered gun-free zones and the penalties for driving under the influence increase if the person has a gun in their car.
What Is the Penalty for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in Texas?
In Texas, unlawfully possessing a weapon is usually charged as a Class A misdemeanor. This crime can, however, be upgraded to a third-degree felony if a person carries their weapon in an area that serves alcoholic beverages. There are other circumstances in which the crime can be a third-degree felony.
The punishment for conviction of a Class A misdemeanor is as follows:
- Up to one year in jail;
- Fines up to $4,000;
- Possible community service;
- Possible probation period.
The crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm is a felony of the third degree. A third-degree felony charge carries even harsher penalties, specifically imprisonment for 2 to 10 years or a fine of as much as $10,000.
Can I Still Be Arrested If I Am Now Legally Allowed to Carry a Weapon?
A person who is a convicted felon cannot possess a firearm for five years after they have been released from imprisonment or community service. After the five years have expired, they may only possess firearms in their home. If a convicted felon is found to have a gun outside their home, they can be arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm.
Why Can I Not Possess a Firearm When I Was Only Convicted of a Domestic Charge?
Any person convicted of assault involving a member of their household or family cannot possess a firearm for five years after their release from imprisonment or community service. This is true even if they did not use a gun in the commission of the assault.
If someone possesses a gun within those five years, it is considered a crime of “unlawful possession of firearm.” That is the law in Texas.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me with My Unlawful Possession Case?
The Texas law known as “unlawful possession of firearm” can be complicated. If you have been charged with violating this law or any other firearm offense in Texas, you should consult a Texas criminal defense attorney.
Your attorney can review the evidence and determine if you have any defenses. Your attorney can also negotiate with the district attorney to resolve your case.