Lines of fire 

Bryan Wells
Mark Hancock

One allows residents of states that don’t require permits for concealed handguns to keep their arms in Oklahoma.

Another alters the Oklahoma Riot Control and Prevention Act to prohibit state officials from seizing guns during a state of emergency.

But the biggest and most talked-about gun bill will allow license-holders to openly holster their handguns. Upon signing the legislation, Gov. Mary Fallin said it “sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of its citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property.”

State politicians have been flirting with the notion of open carry for several years. In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill that was vetoed by then- Gov. Brad Henry.

“The basic bill had already been done five years ago,” said Don Spencer, deputy director of policy and legislation for the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, which lobbies for gun rights. “We are trying to restore commonsense gun laws.”

Packing heat

Of about 20 gun-related bills introduced this year, Spencer said, five were rolled into Senate Bill 1733, the 65-page, open-carry legislation. One sentence fragment makes it legal for people to carry a firearm openly on their own property. A bigger change requires that gun licensees approached by a police officer must inform that officer of their weapon “at first opportunity,” as opposed to the original language, which said “at first contact.”

“If the officer comes up and is stating his demands, it would be rude or maybe unlawful to interrupt him,” Spencer said.

That section also reduced the punishment for failing to inform an officer to a $100 fine. Previously, it threatened a steeper fine with the possibility of jail time and a suspended gun license.

The spark for open carry is hard to pinpoint, but part of it might have to do with the weather.

Bryan Wells, an avid outdoorsman who is also a licensed handgun owner, said in the summer he might occasionally wear his holster out because of the heat. Even if he’s not intentionally carrying an exposed weapon, it’s easy enough for a T-shirt to become untucked, and suddenly, what had been a legally concealed weapon becomes a violation of law.

Wells said the new measure allows him to worry less about accidental exposure. On some occasions, he may decide to carry openly, but he doesn’t plan to change his habits drastically.

“You’ll find that we’re not out to show our guns off ... to brag, to be haughty,” he said.

In addition to affording license holders more freedom, SB 1733 brings Oklahoma in line with 43 other states that allow some level of open carry and reinforces Second Amendment rights, according to Spencer.

Armed with dissent

Hardly everyone agrees.

“This has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights,” said state Sen. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City.

He voted against open carry, but supported the measure that precluded government officials from seizing guns.

Open carry poses too much of a risk to law enforcement officers, said McAffrey.

He noted that police are trained to watch a person’s hands for motions that could indicate he or she is reaching for a concealed weapon. With open carry, McAffrey and other opponents argued, it could become too chaotic and dangerous for an officer who arrives at a crime scene where multiple people have weapons.

“If you have open carry, you’ve got to watch a heck of a lot more people,” McAffrey said.

Ken McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, said his group never took an official stance on the bill because members were split.

“I think if you look at the rural sheriffs versus the metro sheriffs, it was a difference of opinions,” McNair said.

Law enforcement officials in urban areas tend to oppose open carry, while their rural counterparts mostly supported the legislation.

Now law enforcement agencies are learning about the new law and altering practices they see as possible problems come November. McNair said the association will organize seminars if necessary, but ultimately, it will fall on individual officers to decide how to handle new situations.

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