Texas zoos face open-carry quandary
By John Kanelis
You'll have to forgive this pun, which is intentional.
Zoos aren't "fish or fowl," at least according to many people's definition.
They serve as learning venues for school children coming to see the animals they're studying in the classroom. Thus, they might become as much a part of the educational infrastructure as the schools where the children attend.
Zoos also serve as places where customers pay good money to enjoy the entertainment provided by the creatures and critters. Therefore, they operate as businesses.
Texas has a new open-carry law on the books, meaning that Texans who are qualified to carry firearms concealed under their clothing now can carry them openly, in holsters on their hips or on their shoulders.
Should zoos be treated as "gun-free zones," such as schools? Or do they allow customers to carry guns in the open, as any business is allowed to do under the law?
The Texas Tribune has taken a good look at this quandary facing zoos across the state.
It's a difficult question to answer in a straightfoward way.
Here's how the Texas Tribune reports the issue:
"A pair of new gun laws — one allowing license holders to openly carry handguns and another penalizing entities that improperly ban firearms on government-owned property — are posing a challenge for all institutions funded through private foundations but located on public property.
"Zoos are walking a particular legal tightrope if they want to keep firearms off their property.
"Both laws protect existing 'gun-free zones,' such as school campuses and courtrooms, and allow private businesses, amusement parks and educational institutions to ban weapons if they choose. While zoos, as frequent destinations for school field trips and family outings, have a strong interest in setting their own firearms policies, they often don’t fall into any of those categories.
“'It’s being interpreted differently in every city,' said Tim Morrow, executive director of the San Antonio Zoo. 'I think it’s really going to come down to the attorney general making a decision.'”
For the record, the San Antonio Zoo has decided to ban carrying firearms in the open on its property.
Moreover, many Texas businesses have done much the same thing, along with a number of private colleges and universities that have opted out of the open-carry provision.
It will be left, I suppose, for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to decide how zoos should be treated. My own sense is that given Paxton's philosophical leaning as a conservative Republican that he might be inclined to categorize zoos as a place where the "gun free" designation doesn't apply.
The Texas Legislature perhaps didn't envision these kinds of complications arising when it voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to allow Texans to carry guns in the open.
They have. Now we've got to figure out a way to cut through the mess.