Commentary: Carry on 

If signed into law, Oklahoma’s “constitutional carry” bill will cause more problems than it will solve.

click to enlarge GAZETTE / FILE
  • Gazette / file

A bill that passed the state House of Representatives last week and is likely to become law will remove permitting and training requirements from the purchase and use of handguns. This legislation is not a solution in search of a problem; it is a problem that will eventually require a solution.

On Feb. 13, House Bill 2597 passed the House 70-30, a margin that should make no one feel safe. If passed and signed into law, this so-called “constitutional carry” bill will allow anyone over age 21 and members of the military over 18 to carry guns without permits as long as they have not been convicted of a felony or found in court to be mentally ill. Gov. Kevin Stitt, who wants to operate Oklahoma like a business, albeit one that involves a lot of late-night meetings hovering over Zero Halliburton cases in car trunks, has indicated he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Legislators in thrall to the gun lobby were quick to point out the Second Amendment provisions for all-you-can-shoot ordnance buffets.

“What this does is allow, as the Constitution states, that a person can carry a firearm without having to purchase that right,” said state Rep. Kevin “Wild” West, R-Oklahoma City, during a press conference. “The Constitution clearly states that we have right to keep and bear arms.”

Gun control advocates often cite the portion of the Second Amendment that guarantees “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State” as indicative of the amendment’s archaic provisions and, not coincidentally, that nothing good has come from militias in the past century or so. Instead, I’ll point out a key reason the Second Amendment was important at the time of its adoption in 1791: There were no police forces in the United States at the time.

According to “History of Policing in the United States” by Gary Potter, a criminal justice professor at Eastern Kentucky University, the job of policing in the early part of U.S. history fell to volunteers for what was called “night watch.” Boston was the first U.S. city to form a night watch in 1636, and it took the city over 200 years, until 1838, for it to become the first U.S. city with an official police force. Understandably, Bostonians living during the 47 years between adoption of the Bill of Rights and foundation of the Boston Police Department might have wanted to defend themselves under Second Amendment provisions. 

As authored by state Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, HB2597 only takes into account convicted felons and those who have been adjudicated as mentally ill. It will not do anything to prevent killings by first-time offenders, and as such, HB2597 will make it more difficult for today’s Oklahoma police forces to stem the tide of violence by making it easier to acquire a gun and, without the training requirements, easier to accidentally discharge that gun. 

There are, of course, other problems with this legislation, such as the danger of legally carrying a gun while being a person of color. Earlier this month, Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall cleared an unidentified police officer of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Emantic Bradford Jr., who was pursuing a shooter at a mall in Hoover, Alabama. Bradford, a military veteran with weapons training, was the apocryphal “good guy with a gun” that gun-rights groups have canonized as the solution to gun violence, but not all good guys with guns fit law enforcement’s archetype of them.

But if actual human tragedy is not persuasive, Oklahomans should ask whether they want to come across as a gun-totin’ populace to businesses reviewing the state for possible branch offices or relocation. Yes, HB2597 provides for businesses to make rules either allowing or prohibiting guns on their premises, but in 2019, businesses should not have to face such questions. It should not have to come down to commerce, but adding public safety to the myriad concerns about opening for business in Oklahoma seems counterproductive.

As a businessman, Gov. Stitt should understand that. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is constantly shooting off its nose to spite its face.

George Lang is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette and began his career at Gazette in 1994.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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