DALLAS — At a protest against police violence in Dallas, a young man wanders the streets with a gun casually slung over his shoulder.
The hefty weapon hangs all the way from his hip to his ankle, apparently barely raising the eyebrows of passersby.
A few hours after the Dallas shooting, local police posted a photo of the man on Twitter, saying: “This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him!”
Police later downgraded that assessment, saying he was “a person of interest.” Videos emerged online purportedly showing the man peacefully walking in the crowd during the shooting.
The sight of someone walking through a packed protest toting a large gun would be cause for alarm for many people around the world, but in Texas, it’s not so far-fetched.
Over 1 million gun carriers
Of the 27.5 million people who live in this southern U.S. state, more than 1 million people are licensed to carry a handgun.
Dallas County has 57,620 licensees — the third highest number in the state, following Harris (139,563) and Tarrant (71,504) counties.
A “handgun” is defined as “any firearm that is designed, made, or adapted to be fired with one hand.”
While Texans are required to have a permit to carry a handgun, they do not need one for rifles or shotguns — which may help explain the man at Thursday’s protest brazenly toting a long weapon.
Texas is one of 45 states that allow some form of open carry. Only five states — New York, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and California — and the District of Columbia ban open carry.
Who can carry a handgun?
In Texas, successful applicants must be at least 21, have lived in the state for six months, have a clean criminal record, be free of psychiatric disorders and have completed a four- to six-hour training course.
Licenses cost $140.
Where can they carry?
Even those with a permit cannot openly carry a handgun in certain public areas, including streets, sidewalks and parking garages.
But the laws are changing…
As of August 1, handguns will be allowed on university campuses in Texas for people with concealed carry permits. “Open carrying of handguns is still prohibited at these locations,” according to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website.
In 2015, the Republican-led Texas Legislature voted to allow guns within buildings on public college campuses throughout the state.
The new law will go into effect 50 years to the day that engineering student Charles Whitman went on a shooting spree at the University of Texas, killing 16 people.
Under the new legislation, Texan universities will be able to create gun-free zones, but those zones cannot include classrooms.