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Lawsuit filed over gun sign law

This is interesting.

A church in Clear Lake and a coffeeshop in the Heights are challenging a Texas law that dictates how no-gun signs are displayed.

Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church and Antidote Coffee allege the signs private properties need to display are meant to make it harder for them to keep out guns and to mark them as anti-gun establishments.

They are represented by gun safety group Everytown Law and Houston law firm Jones Day.

Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law, said property owners who don’t want handguns on their premises have to put up at least two different signs: one prohibiting concealed carry and one for openly carried guns.

And if they don’t want rifles to be carried, which is legal in Texas without a gun license, they need a sign for that too, the suit states.

Notices to exclude concealed carry must use the following language in both English and Spanish and with letters at least one inch in height: “Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun.”

The size requirement makes it hard to impossible to print the signs at home and takes up space that could be used for other messages to patrons, the plaintiffs allege.

“Most states just have a simple requirement for a picture that is a simple pictogram and that says something along the lines of ‘no firearms’ or ‘no weapons,'” Lefkowitz said. “And there’s no evidence that that’s not understood.”

The plaintiffs want the court to declare the sign requirements unconstitutional and that property owners can decide how they want to indicate that they don’t allow guns and that they “need only follow the notice requirements under the General Trespass Law.”

[…]

Michael Cavanaugh, a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, said arguing the case as constitutional rights violations is a tough sell.

“If the court views the hanging of regulatory signs as a first amendment issue, then the coffee shop and church will win,” he said in an email. “However, I think they will see the issue as a simple regulation in which case Texas will win.”

Antidote is in my neighborhood, I may need to drop by and ask them about this. The story quotes one part of the law, for concealed carry, but there’s a separate law (Section 30.07) for open carry, and a separate sign is required to prohibit those as well. There’s no question that the law was designed to make it as hard as possible for entities to post the signs, and it will be interesting to see what the discovery process turns up, assuming this survives a motion to dismiss.

I support the goal here – it should not be this convoluted for a store owner to legally say “no guns in this establishment” – but I have my doubts that a lawsuit can succeed. I agree with Professor Cavanaugh, framing it as a First Amendment issue is probably the best strategy, I just don’t think the federal courts will accept it, not at the Fifth Circuit or at SCOTUS. The downside risk here is that a final ruling might wind up prohibiting a future Democratic Legislature from modifying this law to make it easier for guns to be forbidden by private property owners, decreeing that the gun owners’ rights supersede theirs. Of course, if such a future Democratic Lege passed a law broadening the ability of store owners and churches and what have you to forbid guns on their premises, I’m sure there would be a lawsuit filed against that, and we could wind up in the same place anyway. At some point, we need better courts, too. Until then, this is what we have. Everytown Law’s page about this suit is here, and Legal Newsline has more.

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9 Comments

  1. Jeff N. says:

    Our church faced the same problem in 2015 and 2016. We didn’t want to allow open carry, but the sign requirements are unsatisfactory. The signs are pretty huge and they make the church a visible target for people who disagree with our choices. We didn’t want to draw in folks who want to disrupt our worship services–which is a real thing that has actually happened to us. It’s a divisive and dangerous law. I hope this lawsuit is successful.

  2. Ross says:

    The law wasn’t designed to make it hard for properties to post their prohibitions against carrying a handgun, the law was designed to ensure that properties gave effective notice that carry is prohibited. Absent this sort of regulation, some entities would put a 2 inch diameter pictogram on the lower right corner of a an entry door and claim it was effective notice. It’s not. Notice has to be obvious, visible, and clear for signage.

    I don’t get why any business would post a sign prohibiting concealed carry by license holders. Licensed individuals are among the most well behaved and least criminal people in the state. There is also a good argument to be made that posting the signs makes the entity entirely liable for the safety of the patrons. I would also ask whether entities that post these signs apply them to law enforcement. LEO’s are not less dangerous than the average CHL holder.

    @Jeff, how would a sign draw in disruptive people? CHL holders are pretty responsible people in general, and follow the law.

  3. C.L. says:

    Just silly business. Private business owners have the right to refuse service to anyone, right (with obvious exceptions to discriminatory practices, race/color/religion, etc.) ? If I owned Antidote and I didn’t want guns within the confines of my business space, I’d run over to Kinkos (or Heights Print Store, right up the street) and have them print up a single 12×18″ sign with 1″ font that covered all the bases (w/the penal code reference) – CHL, long rifles, LEO’s with holstered weapons, etc. – and tape it front and center. Someone’s Constitutional right to own a gun doesn’t trump my right to stay alive or to disallow guns within my establishment.

  4. Ross says:

    C.L. I agree that property owners have the right to exclude carrying of firearms(proper notice is required). However, your sign isn’t going to make you safer, since a miscreant wanting to attack you isn’t going to stop and think “oh, there’s a sign prohibiting firearms, I better not go in”. Carrying a concealed handgun is not dangerous. Patrons are more likely to be hurt by slips and falls and other accidents.

  5. C.L. says:

    @Ross…. true, but business owners have a right to keep firearms out of their establishments, regardless of who has it in their possession or why.

    I don’t own a small business but if I did, no guns allowed. Why ? Because I’m not a fan of firearms in/around my person nor a fan of firearms in/around my patrons. If that position excluded a portion of any potential client base, so be it.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    I agree with Ross and C.L. Is it just a coincidence that this is Constitution Day? I’d like to think that maybe we’re starting to come together as Americans.

    Yes, if you own the business, you pay the mortgage, the light bill, the taxes, the insurance, you should be able to dictate what comes onto your property and what you don’t let come on the property.

  7. Brad + Monika says:

    Bill,

    Your thinking is wrong. And you are part of the problem.

    Your lies and your lying president are making our country even more divided.

  8. Jeff N. says:

    @Ross, you asked “how would a sign draw in disruptive people? CHL holders are pretty responsible people in general, and follow the law.”

    We were more concerned with open carry than with CHL. One of our members was a federal marshall and she carried a concealed handgun to church.

    Five years ago, when our church vestry had these discussions, we had recently been targeted by Westboro Baptist Church protesters. We had also had visitors in our worship services stand up and voice extreme political positions that were out of place in our congregation. We had serious conversations about our security and ways to protect ourselves.

    2015 was a bad year for mass shootings throughout the U.S. The church shooting in Charleston SC that June led many to feel vulnerable. We believed that posting large signs on our church–which is a beautiful structure that has no prominent signage on the building–should be unnecessary. Instead, we printed our no open carry policy on the church bulletin that was handed out to every attendee. We decided we would approach anyone who openly carried a weapon and ask them to leave their weapon in their vehicle. These proved to be good solutions.

    I think our fear of becoming a target of demonstrators was always a worst-case scenario that was not highly likely, but we wanted to avoid a scene like we have witnessed this year in the Michigan state capitol building, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and in Austin, where people openly carried weapons and used them or threatened to use them. Not posting those big signs made us feel more secure without the eyesore of posting very large signs on our church building. Everything worked out the way we wanted.

  9. Jeff N. says:

    @Ross, you asked “how would a sign draw in disruptive people? CHL holders are pretty responsible people in general, and follow the law.”

    We were more concerned with open carry than with CHL. One of our members was a federal marshall and she carried a concealed handgun to church.

    Five years ago, when our church vestry had these discussions, we had recently been targeted by Westboro Baptist Church protesters. We had also had visitors in our worship services stand up and voice extreme political positions that were out of place in our congregation. We had serious conversations about our security and ways to protect ourselves.

    2015 was a bad year for mass shootings throughout the U.S. The church shooting in Charleston SC that June led many to feel vulnerable. We believed that posting large signs on our church–which is a beautiful structure that has no prominent signage on the building–should be unnecessary. Instead, we printed our no open carry policy on the church bulletin that was handed out to every attendee. We decided we would approach anyone who openly carried a weapon and ask them to leave their weapon in their vehicle. These proved to be good solutions.

    I think our fear of becoming a target of demonstrators was always a worst-case scenario that was not highly likely, but we wanted to avoid a scene like we have witnessed this year in the Michigan state capitol building, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and in Austin, where people openly carried weapons and used them or threatened to use them. Not posting those big signs made us feel more secure without the eyesore of posting very large signs on our church building. Everything worked out the way we wanted, but we first took responsibility for talking it through to develop a consensus among ourselves.