This week, Austin State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Texas, pulled down the “no guns” signs that had long been posted throughout the building. That’s because, thanks to new legislation, guns are now permitted in all 10 of the state-run psychiatric hospitals in Texas.
While guns are still banned in state-licensed general and specialty hospitals, that doesn’t include these 10 hospitals because they aren’t officially licensed by the state.
There are disagreements among officials as to whether new laws simply clarify the rules of previous legislation or establish new parameters. However, the open-carry law enacted at the start of the year, combined with another law that fines state agencies for displaying “no guns” signs, make it clear that state-runs psychiatric hospitals are now legally gun-friendly.
The hospitals are still discouraging visitors from bringing guns onto the premises, though. Austin State Hospital now has signs up asking visitors to leave guns in their cars or at least voluntarily conceal them.
Democratic state representative Celia Israel called this an “unintended consequence” of the open-carry legislation, which she opposed from the beginning.
Terry Holcomb, founder and executive of Texas Carry, also considers this an oversight. “Nobody would have asked for that,” he said, as reported by the American Statesman. “It’s not something we ever would have considered. Ever.”
However, Republican state rep. Matt Rinaldi doesn’t see this as a problem with legislation. “It’s the responsibility of the operators of the facilities to ensure that the patients are not around dangerous weapons,” he said.
Democratic state senator Kirk Watson proposed an amendment to the bill last year that would have added the 10 state-run psychiatric facilities to the exempt list, but the proposal quickly died when Republican senator Craig Estes said that more time was needed to study the issue.
“It is my goal to neither increase nor decrease anyplace a gun can be carried, so respectfully I move to table,” Estes said.
Opponents of open carry say that state legislators were wary to grant the exemption out of fear of “derailing the open carry bill by slowing it down with amendments.”
Texas is already one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation — the New York Times called the state “so gun-friendly that it is easier to get into the Capitol in Austin with a firearm than without one.” Another new law kicks in this year to force public universities to allow licensed gun owners to carry their guns on campus.
Mental health experts stress that despite the law, it’s important to keep guns away from these hospitals, which house those suffering from severe mental illnesses.
“While licensed visitors are legally permitted to carry on our hospital campuses, our patients are being actively treated for psychiatric conditions, and generally it’s best not to expose them to weapons of any kind,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services.