Gun law conference at civic center

Lawmen from 36 East Texas agencies attended a conference Tuesday in Henderson on new gun laws.

When the gun laws change, so does the way lawmen enforce what’s on the books. 

When open carry goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016, in Texas police, deputies and other law enforcement officials can ask to see anyone’s concealed handgun license who is openly carrying. 

To help police and sheriff deputies stay abreast of the law, Henderson Police Department and Rusk County Sheriff’s Office sponsored a training session led by the U.S. Law Shield Law Enforcement Legal Defense Program. 

Morning and afternoon sessions were held Tuesday at the Henderson Civic Center. Law enforcement officials from 36 East Texas agencies attended one of the two sessions, including all HPD and RCSO officers, said Henderson Police Chief James Pierson.

“We had everybody from both agencies there and made it mandatory for all employees to attend to give them an idea of what was going on and update them with the new law,” Pierson said Tuesday. 

The sessions started with an hour of dialogue from retired Dallas Police Officer Mike Gurley, followed by a Q&A with Selinda Rainey, U.S. Law Shield representative. Then, Law Enforcement Attorney Ray Hosack spoke on the legal aspects of open carry and the session ended with a test. 

Officers who attended the free class also received three Texas Commission on Law Enforcement credit hours at no charge to the sponsoring agency.

“Not all officers get any update training,” Gurley said. “A lot of these officers [present at the session] have, but especially in smaller departments, they may not get this opportunity.”

Gurley said this training is to explain what the law says and how it impacts law enforcement.

“We explain all the nuances of the law and that they have the right to stop someone who is legally openly carrying with a CHL,” he said. “We talk about that and the fact that the legislature and Supreme Court has made officer safety paramount to citizens’ expectation of privacy. They can infringe on citizens’ rights based on the fact they’re openly carrying.”

After Gurley spoke, Rainey explained what the U.S. Law Shield is and offers to officers. 

U.S. Law Shield is a Houston-based legal services company that has been in business seven years. The company offers independent legal protection and training sessions to active, reserve and retired law enforcement officials and CHL holders in Texas and Florida in use of force cases, whether it involved a gun, hands or other means.

“Our basic package covers any use of force incident, not necessarily guns, but if they are accused of using a racial slur or sexual assault,” Rainey said. “We have concentrated on this this year because of open carry, but there will be other things we’ll be conducting.”

Training is free and civilians and law enforcement officials can pay a monthly or yearly fee for coverage. 

Pierson said there were a lot more people who attended than expected, and Rainey and Gurley said these two sessions were probably the biggest they’ve ever conducted.

“We had 140-plus for the morning session and around 90 for the afternoon session, so we had between 220 and 240 total officers attending,” Pierson said. “Sheriff Price and I have cohosted several trainings at the city and also used the civic center, so it’s nice to be able to bring that to Henderson.”

Sheriff Jeff Price echoed Pierson’s thoughts.

“We’ve got a lot of officers around here that wanted this type of training and we’ve got officers from all over the East Texas area that came to this class,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of officers out there that are interested in this because this is one of the big ones coming up in January because we don’t know what to expect as far as open carry is concerned. We want to get the knowledge and training before open carry goes into effect.”

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