Please don’t claim that you are surprised to find out that a State Mental Hospital cannot ban visitors from bringing guns into the facility. Hospital officials, however, were taken off guard when they recently discovered that under Texas law the longstanding practice of prohibiting handguns at the ten state psychiatric hospitals was illegal – and had been for years.
“Patients in our facilities are a danger to themselves or others,” Cathy Campbell, a policy coordinator for the state hospitals, wrote in a December email. “It seems inconceivable that we would require visitors to store box cutters but allow them to bring a gun on campus.” But despite Campbell’s concerns, the law in Texas does not allow the state-run hospitals to ban handguns.
Tom Benning of the Dallas Morning News has the whole sad story of how the Texas Legislature failed to foresee the consequences in their zeal to promote more guns in the state.
Lawmakers who passed gun carry laws in the 1990s don’t appear to have contemplated the scenario. Carve-outs in the law and later legislative tweaks fuzzed things. At some point, “no guns” signs were posted at those hospitals. And until last year, the setup went largely unnoticed.
Officials with the Department of State Health Services have now taken steps to mitigate the risk of a patient accessing a gun – posting signs, for example, that ask visitors to voluntarily keep guns away.
But at least one facility, Austin State Hospital, has been slow to put up the new signs — which remain difficult to notice. And though there’s optimism that lawmakers will address the issue next year, the state remains in somewhat uncharted territory.
“It defies comprehension,” Dorthy Floyd, superintendent at Terrell State Hospital, wrote in an email in January. The News obtained the emails under the state’s open-records law after the gun policy earned international attention in January.
State-run psychiatric hospitals are just one of several government institutions re-evaluating their firearms policies these days. Private mental hospitals continue to have the right to bar guns on their property.