When Deidre Irwin Ross, CMP, CAE, director, convention and meeting planning for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), learned about a new Texas law that allows for the open carry of handguns, she was concerned. The AVMA Convention 2016 is being held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio in August, and the law — which went into effect on Jan. 1 — permits open carry in municipally owned buildings such as convention centers.
Texas is not the “Wild, Wild West.” The state’s new open-carry law has not impacted our facility’s or our clients’ operations.
Ross is worried about how some of her attendees might react to the sight of people wandering around the meeting with guns openly displayed. (The law specifies that a gun must be worn in a belt or shoulder holster.) More than that, she’s concerned about “balancing the comfort and well-being of attendees with the rights of gun owners in the state.”
In fact, for being so closely associated with gun culture, Texas is late to this party, only now becoming one of 45 states that allow open carry in some form. And the new law isn’t absolute. Exceptions are permitted — as they are under Texas’ preexisting concealed-carry law — for schools, court buildings, jails, and polling places; businesses also can prohibit concealed and open carry provided they display the proper signage indicating their policy. Municipal facilities such as convention centers are required to permit open carry — but organizations that are booking those facilities for a meeting, convention, or other private event generally are not.
We checked in with a handful of convention centers in the Lone Star State to see how they’re handling open carry. The consensus seems to be that, while they take the concerns of their clients seriously, the new law isn’t much of an issue. Bottom line: Allowing or not allowing open carry is up to the meeting organizer.
Paul Barnes, assistant director, Austin Convention Center: “It is the policy of the Austin Convention Center Department to allow tenants/clients who lease space to generally control access to the space, including any decision to allow or not allow lawfully carried handguns (concealed or openly carried) in the leased space, during the time of the leasehold. We believe this is consistent with state law. The client is responsible for posting any and all legal signage pertaining to the law. Of course, illegal weapons are prohibited at all times.”
Danielle McClelland, media and community relations, Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas: “Texas is not the ‘Wild, Wild West.’ The state’s new open-carry law has not impacted our facility’s or our clients’ operations.”
Lori Sirmen, communications manager, Irving Convention & Visitor Bureau: “The law allows residents to open carry in non-restricted areas of government buildings and properties. Since we are a city-owned facility, we must abide by the newly passed open-carry law.”
Michael J. Sawaya, executive director of convention and sports facilities, the City of San Antonio: “As a municipally owned venue, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center (HBGCC) is required to comply with state law as it pertains to the open and concealed carrying of handguns. As a private licensee holding a private event within the convention center, it is the licensee who will make the determination as to whether open carry is allowed within their leased space during the time of their event.
As such, it is up to each licensee to inform the HBGCC and their clientele of their policy. If the customer determines they want their leased areas to be restricted, they must work with their decorators or a sign manufacturer to create the appropriate signage and place the signs accordingly. Signage can only be placed at the entrances to the client’s licensed space.”