The Dallas Zoo can continue to ban guns at its 106-acre campus in Oak Cliff after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week rejected a citizen complaint that the zoo’s firearms policy violated state law.
Paxton’s office said in a letter dated Wednesday that the zoo qualifies as an amusement park. That’s an area where state law says the licensed carrying of handguns can be prohibited, so long as the proper notice is given.
So the privately-run zoo can keep up the signs prohibiting both concealed carry and open carry that it has posted at its entrance.
“We’re heartened that the Attorney General realizes that our zoo … isn’t the place for weapons,” Gregg Hudson, the zoo’s president said in a news release. “The vast majority of our guests are families with children, and they have strongly supported us on this issue.”
Edwin Walker, a Houston attorney, had challenged the zoo under a new state law that allows Texans to formally complain about some local “no guns” policies. His complaint was one of about 50 that have been filed in Texas since September.
He said on Friday that he disagreed with the ruling – arguing that the zoo shouldn’t be able to ban guns since it is owned by the city of Dallas. He predicted that the Legislature, run by gun-friendly Republicans, would take up the issue next year.
“I certainly don’t think that the Legislature envisioned, whenever they created the exception for amusement parks … that a piece of government property would be viewed as an amusement park,” Walker said.
The zoo offered a multi-pronged argument for why it could ban firearms, including that it should count as an educational institution. But the attorney general’s office ignored those other claims and focused only on the Dallas Zoo’s amusement park exemption.
The carve-out dates back to 1995 and the legislation that created concealed carry in Texas. Then-Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, amended the bill create an exemption aimed at the state’s major theme parks, such as Arlington’s Six Flags Over Texas.
“The nature of the rides and the activities at these theme parks are such that they could create a hazard,” he said during the House debate on the bill.
Today, privately owned theme parks like Six Flags don’t need that specific exemption to ban guns. That’s because the state’s gun laws were tweaked in 1997 to create a process for all private property owners to be able to prohibit guns if they so choose.
The eight-point definition for an amusement park exemption, however, remains part of the gun statutes. And the Dallas Zoo – which, for instance, has security guards on its premises at all times – meets all of those listed standards.
Point being, the Houston Zoo, which had taken down its “no guns” signs then put them back up after declaring itself an “educational institution”, can’t take any comfort from this opinion. And even if they could, I’m certain that Walker is correct and the Lege will trip over itself to accommodate the people like Walker who can’t feel safe anywhere unless they’re armed. So enjoy the reprieve while you can, zoo fans.