Texas Railroad Commission employees will now be able to carry concealed firearms as they go about their work, following a unanimous vote on Tuesday by the three commissioners.
"[Railroad Commission] employees often work alone in remote and desolate areas of the state where they may encounter criminals or dangerous wild animals," Barry Smitherman, the newest commissioner, said in a statement. "The least we can do is allow them to exercise their legal right to carry firearms in accordance with state law.”
The Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas. The new policy will allow properly licensed employees to carry concealed weapons, which they previously had been prohibited from doing on state property and in state-owned vehicles.
Jerry Patterson, head of the General Land Office, said he made a similar change to his agency's policy shortly after arriving in 2003. Both the Railroad Commission and the GLO, Patterson said, "have a lot of employees who work out in the sticks, if you will," including along the border.
"It just makes sense" to be able to carry a concealed weapon, said Patterson, who also noted: "Frankly, if someone is going to go nuts at work, they're going to go nuts at work," regardless of the agency's gun policy.
Smitherman, who consulted with Patterson before pushing through the change, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Railroad Commission this summer to replace Michael Williams. He must win a statewide election a year from now to keep his seat.
Smitherman said he hoped other agencies would follow the Railroad Commission's example. The Public Utility Commission, which Smitherman previously chaired, bans firearms in its offices (the agency does not have field offices; everyone works in Austin). Its employee handbook says: "It is strictly prohibited for an employee to possess a firearm, ammunition, or explosive while on the premises of the PUC."
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's policy states that "Carrying firearms, concealed or unconcealed, or other weapons while performing TCEQ official business in the field or in the office" is prohibited, according to Terry Clawson, an agency spokesman.
Calls to offices of the Comptroller and Attorney General did not yield immediate answers as to their gun policies, and the Texas Department of Public Safety does not have a list of agencies' policies.
Smitherman said that all Railroad Commission workers must abide by the law. “To be clear, this is not the Wild West," he said in the statement. "Railroad Commission employees with a [concealed handgun license] will have to abide by all statutes applicable to CHL holders."
At the General Land Office, Patterson said that since the change of policy there, "we've had no problems," and if a security issue arises it gets addressed. For example, he said, if a "lady has it in her purse, and her purse is out in the common area, [we] may have a conversation about it."