Many Oklahomans will be able to carry firearms in public without a permit or training beginning next week, unless opponents of the new law who have filed a legal challenge are successful in their bid to stop the legislation from taking effect.
Called “Constitutional carry” by proponents, the legislation will allow most Oklahomans age 21 and older — and military service members and veterans age 18 and older — to carry guns either concealed or unconcealed without a license. Exceptions include anyone who is in the country illegally and those convicted of certain crimes.
The measure was the first bill Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law earlier this year. A spokeswoman for Stitt said the governor’s office could not comment for the story due to current ongoing litigation.
Supporters are planning a celebratory rally outside the state Capitol on Friday, the day the law is to take effect.
“We look forward to seeing a bunch of people enjoying the new liberty being returned to them,” said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, who championed the legislation.
But opponents of the legislation have mounted a legal challenge.
Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, and several Oklahoma and Cleveland county residents filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law. They alleged the legislation is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s single-subject rule, which says that legislation may deal with only one main issue. The lawsuit alleges that the bill addresses a number of subjects, including transportation, undocumented immigrants and disclosure to law enforcement.
The plaintiffs asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from going into effect Friday.
Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews is scheduled to hear the request Wednesday.
Spencer said the lawsuit is a “frivolous, last Hail Mary attempt.”
Lowe said even if the judge rules against them, “this is far from over.” He said they’re exploring other options, including an initiative petition and legislation during the next session to try to repeal the law.
“We’re not going away on this issue,” Lowe said. “We’re going to continue to fight because we believe this is a dangerous law.”
Earlier this year, Lowe and other groups led a drive to try to collect nearly 60,000 signatures in roughly two weeks to put the question of permitless carry to a statewide vote next year. They fell short, collecting about 37,000 signatures by mid-September.
Opponents of the new law fear gun violence will increase because of it.
“Based on what’s been going on across the nation as far as the mass shootings, it’s very concerning to me,” Lowe said.
Meanwhile, supporters say the law restores a right that “should have never been taken away.”
“I don’t see how it would lead to more gun violence,” Spencer said. “The thugs are going to continue to do what they’re doing. Peaceful, law-abiding citizens will actually be able to defend themselves if they choose to carry. It’s just a natural deterrent. … If a person or a thug thinks that they’re going to go to an area where they could actually have pushback or resistance to the evil they’re trying to commit, we know it will deter a crime.”
Alex McCourt, an assistant scientist with the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said because laws allowing permitless carry are somewhat new, policy has gotten ahead of the research.
At the end of 2010, only three states allowed permitless carry, McCourt said. Next week, Oklahoma will become the 14th state to “clearly allow” permitless carry in public, he said.
“There hasn’t been time to fully evaluate what happens specifically as a result of these laws that allow permitless carry,” McCourt said.
He said the best research looking at concealed carry has focused on how easy it is to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That research has shown when states make it easier to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, they see increases in violent crime, he said.
He cited an analysis by a Stanford scholar that showed violent crime in states with right-to-carry concealed handgun laws was estimated to be 13% to 15% higher over a 10-year period than it would have been had the state not adopted the law.
“That may suggest that these laws allowing permitless carry will also lead to an increase in violent crime, but we just don’t have the research yet,” he said. “There are researchers that are working on that question. We’re working on it here, in fact, so hopefully we’ll know soon what impact these laws have.”
Dr. Mark Hamill, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said there are many studies looking at firearms violence that point in “very different directions.”
“I would caution people that are looking at these to look at potential biases of the studies,” Hamill said. “If you want to design your statistical model to prove something, you probably can.”
He was the lead author of a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that demonstrated “no statistically significant association between the liberalization of state level firearm carry legislation” during the past 30 years and the rates of homicides or other violent crime.
“We looked at the entire country over a long period of time and showed that in general as you get less restrictive in allowing civilians to carry firearms concealed, you do not see changes in violent crime,” Hamill said. He noted there has been “a dramatic increase” in the number of states allowing permitless carry since the study ended in 2015.
Hamill served as a New York City police officer for several years before attending medical school. He said it wasn’t the people who legally owned firearms he had to worry about.
“It was the people who wanted to illegally own them and possess them and wanted to commit crimes with them that were the problem,” he said.
Kimberly Idlett, 35, of Oklahoma City, a supporter of the new law, said criminals don’t follow the law. They’re already carrying guns now without a permit.
“If anything, (the law is) going to keep people safer because people who were not able to carry their firearms to protect themselves previously are now going to be able to,” she said. “People who couldn’t afford to before are going to be able to now.”
Idlett, who is a stay-at-home mom to three girls, ages 9, 7, and 2, visited the Capitol with her daughters to advocate for the measure.
“It’s an inalienable right that the government should not be taking away from us,” she said.
She’s had a permit to carry for about five years and carries her Glock 42 with her anytime she leaves the house. Idlett said her husband got his permit first and it was a couple years later before she could afford to go through the training class and pay the fees to get her license. It costs $100 for a five-year license and $200 for a 10-year license. Local sheriff’s offices can charge up to $25 for fingerprinting.
“I just think that it would help a lot of people out, especially women and single moms who can’t necessarily afford all the fees to get a license,” she said.
She said training is important, but she doesn’t think the government should mandate it.
Oklahomans can still obtain a license or renew their license once the law changes, and Spencer said he encourages people to do so because it’s important to have if they travel to other states and want to bring along a firearm.
To obtain a license, Oklahomans must successfully complete a firearms safety and training course and undergo a background check, among other requirements.
Last year, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation received 45,347 applications, including both initial applications and renewals.
In a fiscal analysis prepared for the Legislature earlier this year, officials projected the law change could result in a revenue loss for the agency of about $4 million due to a decrease in licenses. Brook Arbeitman, public information officer for the OSBI, said Thursday there’s no way to speculate what the fiscal impact to the agency will be because the law hasn’t gone into effect.
“That was our projection earlier this year, but at this point in time we’re just kind of waiting to see if that comes to bear or not,” Arbeitman said.
Firearms will still be prohibited in certain locations, including schools, government buildings used to conduct business with the public, professional sporting events unless allowed by the event holder, courthouses, detention facilities and casinos.
Business owners can prohibit people from carrying firearms on their property.
In anticipation of the law change, Patti Tepper-Rasmussen posted signs on the doors to her children’s toy store this week that say “Carry of Firearms Prohibited.”
“I just don’t want people feeling it’s OK to come into a store full of children carrying a firearm,” the owner of Learning Tree Toys, Books and Games said. “I feel like anybody who carries a gun also needs training, so I would be in favor of a few more regulations in terms of people wandering around carrying guns.”
Several other business owners in her shopping center requested signs from her, Tepper-Rasmussen said.
“I think it’s a ridiculous law,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense in today’s world where there are shootings anywhere and everywhere now to allow anybody and everybody without any licensing, any training or any background check, to carry a gun. It just makes absolutely no sense to me that we would allow that in our state.”
When the law changes next week, people will no longer be required to inform law enforcement officers they are carrying a gun unless the officer asks.
Steve Emmons, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, said officers don’t know exactly what the circumstances are when they arrive at a situation. He encouraged people to respond reasonably to officers’ demands and not to become defensive if officers ask if they’re carrying a gun.
“Officers just want to know all the circumstances,” he said. “If they know all the circumstances, they’re going to make smarter decisions. … The more they understand, the less likely there is for some bad outcome to happen.”
Emmons said law enforcement overall have mixed feelings any time laws change regarding firearms because of uncertainty, but there seemed to be more hesitation about the unknown in 2012 when open carry legislation passed.
“I don’t hear too many conversations taking place amongst officers being overly concerned about this change,” he said. “I don’t really want to speak for everybody in the state as to whether or not they like it or not, but … just based on what I hear, I think it’s safe to say there doesn’t seem to be quite the amount of concern as there has been in some of the past law changes.”
Edmond police Lt. Jeff Richardson encouraged people who are choosing to exercise their right to carry a gun to read and know the law.
“That was one of the big parts of the concealed carry, the licensing procedure that we’ve had until now was you had to sit through a class and somebody would teach you about the law,” he said. “Now that’s been removed. … The second you put a gun on and walk outside and exercise your right, you are operating under that law whether you know it or not.”
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