Considering the fact that Oklahoma is already home to permitless carry, an anti-red flag law, and very few restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, you might think lawmakers wouldn’t have much left on their 2A to-do list.
Surprisingly, though, more than 100 pieces of gun-related legislation has been introduced in the Oklahoma legislature this year; the vast majority of them bills designed to enhance and protect the right to keep and bear arms, not infringe on it. One common theme running through many of the bills involves removing the “sensitive places” designation that prohibit law-abiding gun owners from carrying in particular locations, and I have to admit I was surprised to learn that there were still so many “gun-free zones” defined by state statute.
In 2019, Oklahoma’s Republican Legislature and governor approved “permitless carry,” which allowed residents to carry a firearm in public with no training or license.
Some lawmakers have tried to clarify where the new law applies, including this year’s House Bill 1404, which would allow individuals to carry guns onto a boat without a permit.
“I can drive to the lake, I can walk down the ramp with my firearm but I can not get in my boat with it,” said Rep. Bob Culver, the bill’s author. He said the state’s “permitless carry” law erroneously excludes boats.
Asked in a House committee hearing this week whether firearm protection was needed on a boat, Culver said being out on an Oklahoma lake can be a dangerous place.
“I have seen all kinds of altercations on the lakes, people ramming boats, drunks,” said Culver, R-Tahlequah.
“So is this the ‘shoot the drunks’ bill?” asked Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa.
“It depends,” Culver responded.
The bill passed the House Committee on Public Safety.
No, it’s not a “shoot the drunks” bill. It’s a self-defense bill. It’s also an anti-theft measure. Why should law-abiding gun owners have to leave their firearm locked in their car where it might be stolen rather than keep it with them when they’re out on the lake in a boat? Even if the odds of becoming the victim of a violent crime while enjoying a day at Lake Texoma are incredibly low, the chances of that firearm being stolen are even lower if the gun owner is able to maintain possession of it rather than being compelled by law to leave it behind.
[Don] Spencer, leader of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said numerous bills this year seek to strengthen the use of guns in cases of self-defense, including language that specifies a person’s home extends to the property line.
Spencer’s group also is pushing for guns to be allowed at the state fair and in all businesses.
“We are working to eliminate no gun zones because that’s where the crazies go to do their worst,” Spencer said.
But three of the state’s largest business groups continue to oppose laws that would prevent a business or event from banning guns.
In joint statements this month, chamber organizations representing the state, Oklahoma City and Tulsa opposed “legislation that would negate the rights of businesses, property owners and event hosts from prohibiting firearms.”
The three chambers also oppose bills that would allow guns to be carried on college campuses.
Private property owners should be able to designate their buildings as “gun-free zones” if they wish to do so, though given that the Second Amendment protects a general right to carry a firearm for self-defense in public I think the onus should be on the property owner to give notice that firearms are prohibited; which runs counter to the default ban on all private property imposed by states like New York in the wake of its “may issue” laws being struck down by the Supreme Court in Bruen.
When it comes to bans on carrying in publicly-owned locations, however, the Court has made it clear that “sensitive places” are outliers, not the norm. Given that schools are one of those locations SCOTUS deemed acceptable, as well as the longstanding opposition to campus carry from the Chamber of Commerce and the higher ed lobby, it remains to be seen if lawmakers will actually move a campus carry bill forward. Neighboring states like Texas, Kansas, and Colorado all allow for lawful concealed carry to one degree or another on college and university campuses, but Oklahoma legislators have so far refused to do the same.
Beyond the bills dealing with “sensitive places”, lawmakers are offering a wide variety of proposals; from bills that would empower sheriffs to arrest federal officials attempting to enforce any new federal gun control law (red meat for the base, but something that won’t stand up to a court challenge) to restoring non-violent felons’ right to keep and bear arms to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would specifically protect “handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, nonlethal defensive weapons and other arms in common use, as well as ammunition and the components of arms and ammunition” from any gun control efforts.
There are also competing versions of some ideas like campus carry and rights restoration, but even with some repeats the 100+ bills filed in Oklahoma this session is still a pretty impressive collection of pro-2A legislation. I just hope that lawmakers don’t stop with the low-hanging fruit and deliver some substantive changes that strengthen the right to keep and bear arms. Removing the prohibition on carrying a boat shouldn’t be a problem for lawmakers, but that doesn’t mean the the GOP supermajority won’t side with the Chamber of Commerce-types instead of the state’s Second Amendment activists when it comes to more common “gun-free zones” that prevent lawful armed self-defense without stopping those with violent intent from carrying out their attacks.