The gun laws in Texas have recently changed. Up until that point, I would most frequently handle gun charges that involved people carrying a weapon in their vehicle illegally, or mistakenly going into a bar or a school or something where there’s a gun-free zone while armed. I often used to see cases where people would forget that they had a gun in their briefcase and then go to the airport and they get slapped with a gun charge there.
However, in around September of this past year, Texas passed a law that removes the requirement for people to have a license to carry in most public places. That was obviously kind of a huge deal for the gun lobby. As all Texans know, this state is very pro-Second Amendment. As such, the gun restrictions are not as onerous as they used to be.
What this means is that most people can take their guns to most public places, but people with a specific handgun license can take their guns to even more places, including some of the few places where it is still illegal to carry a gun unlicensed. There are still different rules for unlicensed versus licensed carry, for example, near schools and colleges. In addition, some private property owners can still prohibit any guns on their premises, or can choose only to prohibit unlicensed guns on their premises.
Generally, though, the fact remains that the already lax gun laws were loosened significantly within the past year. As such, I expect to see less gun charges.
Still, I do see some gun charges. Perhaps the most frequent type of gun charges that I see are cases where someone has been convicted of a felony in the relatively recent past, and has a pistol despite being a felon (which is still illegal). In those cases, people do get charged with a felony for illegal possession. However, the low-level gun charges outside of that context are—I believe—slowly going to start going away as the Texan legislature continues to create more gun rights for people.
If you have been convicted of a felony within a certain period of time, it is illegal for you to have a firearm. If you are found in possession of a firearm, you’ll be charged with “unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.”
“Unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon” is itself a felony charge, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That’s the most common felony gun charge that you can be charged with.
Obviously, that is not the only potential felony gun charges you might face. For example, if you use a firearm to threaten someone in a road rage situation, that’s also a felony. This is because it is considered aggravated assault if you point a weapon at someone or use it in a manner that’s threatening.
Still, the most common gun charges that I see these days involve the illegal possession of a firearm by a felon.
If you’re charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, you could be sentenced with anywhere from 2 years to 10 years in the state penitentiary, as well as up to $10,000 in fines.
In Texas, joint gun and drugs charges depend on context. However, if they think that you were selling or had the intent to sell drugs, they will usually just add a deadly weapon count to your drug charges.
They’ll still charge you with possession of the drug, but by adding what’s known as a “deadly weapon paragraph” to the drug charge, in the event that you are sent to the penitentiary, it makes the time you serve much more difficult.
Specifically, it makes it so that you have to serve at least half of the time in your sentence, whereas normally on a drug charge, if you go to the penitentiary, you’d only serve a quarter of the time before you’re eligible for parole. If you’re charged with possessing a firearm while in the commission of a drug charge, then you have to serve at least half of your time. This means that if you got sentenced, for example, to 10 years, you’d have to serve at least 5 years, rather than at least 2.5 years. This is what is known as an aggravating circumstance. Basically, this means that you’re being sentenced essentially as if you had pointed the gun at someone.
Now, if you’re given probation on the drug charge, judges usually defer a finding on whether or not you possessed a weapon until you complete the probation for the drug charge successfully. Oftentimes, if you get in trouble on the probation, then the gun charge resurfaces.
So, it’s much more dangerous for a client in terms of sentencing if they’re caught with a gun, and certainly in the context of a drug charge. Many of the gun charges I currently deal with involve this sort of “not-use” of a gun that is still possession and therefore can still legally hurt you.
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