July 19, 2023

Photo of a Gun

Back in 2021, Texas witnessed a 550% spike in the number of conventions from unlawful carry of a weapon. Although the rates fell in 2022, it’s still a serious charge that could lead to prison time and up to $10,000 in fines.

The question here is: when exactly is carrying a weapon considered unlawful?

Both unlicensed individuals and license holders can be convicted, so it’s not just about carry permits. Instead, it’s more about the person’s conduct, state of mind, age, criminal history, and location during the incident.

Read on to learn all about the laws that define unlawful carry of a weapon in Texas, the legal consequences, and which places are off-limits for license holders.

What Is Considered an Unlawful Carry of a Weapon in Texas?

Under Section 46.02 of the Penal Code, someone who has a handgun on their person could be charged with an unlawful carry of a weapon (UCW) if they:

  • Are under 21 years old
  • Have been convicted of a criminal offense under Sections 22.01 (a)(1), 22.05, 22.07, 42.01(a)(7), or 42.01(a)(8) within a five-year period.
  • Were intoxicated at the time of the incident (Subsection a-6)
  • Are prohibited from possessing firearms (Subsection a-7)

These circumstances typically apply when the person isn’t on their property or inside (or en route to) their motor vehicle or watercraft.

That doesn’t mean that you can never be charged with UCW if you’re inside your car, though. Under Subsection (a-1), unlawful carrying charges can apply if you’re committing or engaged in any criminal activity other than a Class C misdemeanor traffic violation.

It’s also worth noting that the penal code law doesn’t just cover handguns.

It’s possible for someone younger than 18 to face criminal charges if they carry a location-restricted knife (that’s typically a knife with a blade larger than 5.5 inches) without direct supervision of a parent or legal guardian. This falls under Subsection (a-4).

Do You Get Prison Time for Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon in Texas?

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Generally speaking, UCW is a Class A misdemeanor. So, even if it’s your first weapon charge, you could face jail time (up to a year) and/or a fine (up to $4,000).

However, there are some exceptions.

For instance, offenses under (a-4) are considered a Class C misdemeanor. If it leads to a conviction, the punishment could include a fine (up to $500).

On the other hand, unlawful carrying of weapons under Subsection (a-7) is either a second or a third-degree felony. The felony charge and penalty varies depending on why the person was prohibited from owning guns in the first place.

For one, if the prohibition traces back to unlawful possession of a firearm under Section 46.04(b) or 46.04(c), the carrying charge is then considered a felony of the third degree. In this case, the conviction can lead to 2–10 years of imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Meanwhile, if the person was prohibited from carrying under Section 46.04(a), they’ll face a second-degree felony charge, with a minimum term of five years. Note that Subsection (a-1) here covers members of criminal street gangs, too.

Do You Need a License to Avoid UCW Charges in Texas?

No, you don’t get charged with unlawful carrying of a weapon just because you’re not licensed.

The constitutional carry law means that, as of 2021, Texas citizens no longer need a license to carry (LTC) to have a handgun on them in many public places. We’ll cover the exceptions in more detail in a moment.

Photo of Judge's Gavel

Licenses could come in handy for Texans between 18 and 21, though. Usually, people of this age group aren’t allowed to get handgun licenses. However, now the law allows them to do so if they’re covered by certain protective orders (family violence, stalking, etc.).

Where Is It Unlawful to Carry a Weapon in Texas?

There are some places where carrying a weapon is always prohibited under Section 46.03. Take, for instance, racetracks, airports, hospitals, nursing facilities, correctional facilities, civil commitment facilities, and amusement parks.

It’s also worth noting that you can’t carry in any business where selling/serving alcoholic beverages makes up 51% or more of the income. That’s why you might spot the “red 51% sign” in bars.

Plus, carrying is also prohibited in government meeting rooms subject to Chapter 551.

That said, the legal situation can vary in other places, depending on the circumstances and the regulations set in place by the owners.

Here are some examples:

Places Where Carrying Might be Prohibited

Owners are free to ban guns (both unlicensed and licensed) on their private property as long as they give people proper notice. The property owners might have to post signs at the entrance using block letters (minimum 1-inch height) in contrasting colors.

Employers can also restrict their employees from possessing handguns at work.

Similar rules apply to places of worship. So, a church can provide oral or written notice to prohibit people from carrying weapons on the property.

Places With Carry Restrictions

The carry situation is a little tricky when it comes to a university or college campus. Only licensed holders can bring a firearm to the premises.

However, it has to be a concealed handgun. Plus, private higher educational institutions could enforce regulations regarding the storage of weapons in dorms.

How Many Texans Receive UCW Convictions Annually?

Photo of Judge's Gavel and Texas Law Text

The conviction rates for unlawful carry in Texas vary drastically from one year to another, but here’s a quick overview to help put things into perspective:

YearTotal ConvictionsConvictions Among LTC Holders

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney for Your Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon Charge

Although many cases of unlawful carrying of weapons are considered Class A misdemeanors, it’s still possible to face a felony conviction, depending on the circumstances.

For more information about the legal process and the possible defense strategies, call the team of criminal defense lawyers at The Napier Law Firm at (713) 470-4097 today.