When it comes to legislature, Oklahoma almost always falls on the conservative end of the spectrum. We are a consistently 'red' state- and not just because of the dirt. Oklahoma's politicians typically choose to implement greater restrictions, both fiscally and socially (i.e. reduced influence of environmental groups, strongly regulated budgets, smaller role of government overall). But regarding gun ownership, Oklahomans elect for fewer restrictions. This isn't entirely surprising as guns are so ingrained in our culture, but the extent to which gun rights are set to expand is troubling.
On February 27th of this year, Bill 2597, also known as 'Constitutional Carry,' passed through the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The bill was signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt, with resounding support from other Republican state officials. Essentially, the new law will allow Oklahomans to carry a firearm without licensing, background checks, or training. Representative Kevin West argues that the bill will simply ensure a right which has already been granted to citizens, but which has not always been upheld. The Tulsa World expands on this, expressing West's belief that "the cost of training and licensing is an unconstitutional barrier to gun ownership, and...[it] will particularly benefit poor people." West feels that for gun ownership to be a true right, it must be unencumbered by existing requirements. He believes the bill will more easily allow the poor to defend themselves in possibly unsafe neighborhoods without the worry of additional payments for training and licensing.
Representative Monroe Nichols disagrees, stating that in his three years overseeing economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Tulsa, he has never encountered a citizen struggling to "[decide] between a gun and a sandwich." Nichols has a point. Of all the issues plaguing the poor, the inability to own a gun isn't usually at the top of the list. In fact, decreasing requirements for gun ownership and thereby increasing the number of gun owners threatens a rise in gun-related deaths, especially in these poor, unsafe neighborhoods.
When it comes to gun ownership and law reform, the term 'common sense' gets tossed around a lot. But in the true sense of the phrase, Constitutional Carry is not common sense. With almost no vetting process whatsoever, there is no way to ensure gun owners will be smart and responsible. Sixteen-year-olds in their first year of driving will potentially receive more testing and training than first-time gun buyers, which is completely unacceptable. The passing of Bill 2597 will basically repeal the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act or OSDA. Writers and supporters of the bill acknowledge that places which currently ban firearms on their premises will continue to do so, but any establishment that wishes to allow guns on its grounds will also be opening its doors to unlicensed and possibly inexperienced handlers.
In addition to the continued restriction of guns on specified properties (such as stores, schools, government buildings, etc.), the bill will deny ownership to convicted felons, those with mental illness, or other related constraints. Representative Justin Humphrey explains that the bill "just allows you to carry a weapon without having to pay for the permitting, background and all the things you have to..." the same explanation presented by others. Yet, "Humphrey stressed if the bill would pass, it would not take away background checks for any person going to buy a gun" (okcfox.com). Humphrey's statements are in direct contradiction to one another. If certain individuals are to be prevented from purchasing guns, how will their competency be determined without a background check? Are they to be provided or not? The practical details that will be put in effect based on the bill's requirements are disturbingly unclear.
Ultimately, Constitutional Carry is a big step in the wrong direction. I support the Second Amendment and agree that law-abiding citizens should be granted the right to bear arms, but the elimination of background checks and basic training requirements is reckless and uninformed.