Austin State Hospital, the oldest psychiatric hospital in Texas, has taken down its signs banning guns. The move is in line with the state’s new firearms law which allows the open carry of guns in state psychiatric hospitals. Licensed gun owners can now bring their firearms into all 10 psychiatric hospitals operated by the state of Texas as the result of a loophole that was not closed when the new law passed last summer, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s report. Psychiatric institutions are not subject to the same exemption as general hospitals because they are in a different section of the state’s health and safety code. Kirk Watson, a Democratic state senator, said the amendment he proposed to address the loophole was shut down without a debate. People making deliveries and visitors will be able to bring guns into psychiatric facilities. Alcohol and tobacco are still banned from the hospitals’ campuses, however. Employees are still prohibited from bringing guns to work. Apart from general hospitals, the new law prohibits firearms in schools, courthouses, prisons, sports events and bars. Private businesses such as supermarkets and restaurants can choose to opt out, either by verbally informing customers that guns are unwelcome or by posting signs in English and Spanish at their entrances.
Mental Health advocates have condemned the law, saying it could negatively impact patients’ treatments and could lead to an increase in suicide rates. Greg Hansch, the public policy director of the Texas branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said his group is opposed to people bringing guns onto the grounds of state psychiatric hospitals, arguing that “it fosters fear and will be detrimental to the recovery of persons receiving treatment.” Hansch added that he is worried that allowing guns in mental hospitals will make it easier for suicidal people to kill themselves. Of the roughly 30,000 gun deaths in the US each year, around two-thirds are ruled suicide, he said.
"While licensed visitors are legally permitted to carry on our hospital campuses, our patients are being actively treated for psychiatric conditions, and generally it's best not to expose them to weapons of any kind," Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services explained.
The First Baptist Church of Arlington, permits carrying weapons into its services. “We decided it was best to allow responsible people to do this if they choose,” Senior Pastor Dennis Wiles told the Wall Street Journal. “We will probably assess the situation in a couple of months to see how it goes. When it comes to a church, I don’t think we’re going to see that much difference.”