Oklahoma Senator Takes Aim At Federal Suppressor Regulations

(AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)

Honestly, one of the hardest things about being a pro-Second Amendment lawmaker in Oklahoma right now is coming up with legislation to expand and secure the right to keep and bear arms. The state’s Constitutional Carry law took effect in 2020 (for those who want to obtain a concealed carry license, the state also has a “shall issue” system in place) along with an anti-“red flag” gun seizure law, and this year Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a Second Amendment Sanctuary bill into law. With all those protections in place, what’s left for legislators to push for?

How about suppressors?

Sen. Michael Bergstrom, R-Adair, filed Senate Bill 1098, which seeks to exempt gun silencers from federal law and regulations if manufactured and kept within Oklahoma.

Under the would-be law, Oklahomans could legally own a silencer without federal registration requirements, but the silencer must have “Made in Oklahoma” marked on it, according to a State Senate news release.

“It’s clear federal overreach to require a person who purchases a gun suppressor to pay additional fees out of pocket and wait months or even years for approval,” Bergstrom said. “The federal requirement of registering a suppressor through the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) process is lengthy, expensive and a burden placed directly on law abiding citizens. That’s why we want to make this simple for Oklahomans – if you buy a suppressor manufactured and used in our state, you don’t have to jump through these hoops.”

Here’s the biggest problem with Bergstrom’s proposal: the courts aren’t likely going to go along with it even if his bill passes and becomes law.

Back in 2013 the neighboring state of Kansas approved a measure called the Second Amendment Protection Act, which declared that firearms, ammunition, and accessories made in Kansas that never left the state were not subject to federal firearms laws.

The following year, the owner of a military surplus store and one of his customers were charged by federal prosecutors with violating the National Firearms Act for possessing (and selling) an unregistered suppressor. The two men were convicted, and in 2019 the Supreme Court declined to take up their case, leaving their felony convictions in place.

The men had asked the court to decide whether silencers – muzzle attachments that suppress the sound of a gunshot – are covered by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

The court’s action came in the aftermath of a May 31 mass shooting in the Virginia coastal city of Virginia Beach in which a gunman who killed 12 people used weapons including a handgun equipped with a silencer.

It’s true that the makeup of the Supreme Court has shifted since 2019, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett taking the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but I’ve not seen anything from the current crop of justices that leads me to believe they’re ready to take on a Tenth Amendment challenge like this one.

And of course, in order for the Supreme Court to review the law the justices need a case to come before them, and that means that someone would have to be arrested and charged like the two guys in Kansas were. How many gun owners would be willing to be the legal guinea pig if a loss in court meant a felony conviction and the possibility of a federal prison sentence?

I don’t disagree in theory with the intent behind the bill, but I just don’t see it being upheld by courts even if it takes effect. In that sense, it’s more sizzle than steak. I’d suggest if Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to make continued improvements to the state’s gun laws, they could take a page from Indiana legislators and pass a bill that gets rid of the fees for concealed carry licenses altogether.

Right now a five-year license costs $100 and a ten-year license is $200, with renewals costing slightly less. And despite the fact that Oklahoma is a Constitutional Carry state, there are still plenty of residents who have a carry license in order to legally carry in other states, so removing the fees would have a substantive and positive impact on many Oklahoma gun owners. If lawmakers are looking to improve on the state’s already great gun laws, I’d start there instead of a bill that would subject gun owners to federal prosecution in the name of states’ rights.

Dec 04, 2021 11:30 AM ET