Lawmaker says shooting at state fair proves "gun-free zones" don't work

Lawmaker says shooting at state fair proves "gun-free zones" don't work
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the best things about growing up in Oklahoma City was the fact that I was able to attend the Oklahoma State Fair each fall. No offense to the folks who run the state fair in my current home state of Virginia, but it’s a mundane affair compared to the size, scope, and offerings to be found in Oklahoma. I looked forward each year to walking through the midway, eating alligator on a stick or a fried turkey leg as big as my forearm, checking out the wares in the Made in Oklahoma building, and catching acts from The Monkees to Whitesnake at the State Fair Speedway.

I never felt unsafe at the fairgrounds growing up, but times have changed and the sanctity of the state fair was shattered this past weekend when a teenager was shot during a fight and taken to a local hospital with critical injuries. Though the Great State Fair of Oklahoma is one of the few “gun-free zones” in the Sooner State, state Rep. Jim Olsen believes the shooting shows just how nonsensical and ineffective these policies are, and he’s demanding a change to allow lawful gun owners to carry during next year’s fair.

Olsen said, “The tragic shooting this past weekend at the Oklahoma State Fair underscored the need for law-abiding citizens to be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights at the State Fair. The whole incident illustrates that, under the liberal gun control mindset, lawless criminals will continue to carry weapons and prove a threat while law-abiding Americans are prohibited from utilizing their God-given right to protect themselves and their families. Two bills, House Bill 1021 and Senate Bill 920, were filed this past session that would have recognized Second Amendment rights at the State Fair. In a public place where lawless thugs can be a threat, trustworthy Oklahomans should have the right to be armed if they so choose. The 2022 New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen U.S. Supreme Court Ruling held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”

I’ve seen two headlines, including the one linked above, that says Olsen was calling for open carrying to be allowed at the state fair, but that’s not what the eastern Oklahoma legislator is actually demanding. Instead, Olsen simply believes that the state fair shouldn’t be a “gun-free zone”, and lawful gun owners should be able to carry inside the fairgrounds just as they can on the streets of Oklahoma City, either openly or concealed.

Olsen was the author of HB 1021, which would have specifically exempted the fairgrounds in Oklahoma City and Tulsa from the current prohibitions on carrying on any “property set aside by a county, city, town, public trust with a county, city or town as a beneficiary, or state governmental authority for an event that is secured with minimum security provisions,” but the bill didn’t get very far. In fact, it never even got to the floor of the House. Instead, it languished in the House Public Safety Committee for months until the legislature adjourned in late May.

The Oklahoma State Fair has metal detectors at every entrance in order to stop guns from being brought inside, but those clearly didn’t do the job last weekend. A fair spokesman says it’s still unknown how the suspect got his gun past security, but while we’re waiting for answers can we at least recognize that if a 17-year-old managed to bypass those security measures, they can’t be all that effective?

This is yet another example of a “gun-free zone” in name only; a sensitive place where the law-abiding are disarmed and criminals creative enough to sneak a gun onto the property can do so with impunity… at least until they’re arrested after recklessly pulling the trigger of their illicitly carried pistol.

If metal detectors and security at each gate aren’t enough to prevent guns from being smuggled inside the fairgrounds, the very least lawmakers could do would be to ensure that lawful gun owners aren’t disarmed and defenseless when they wander through the fair looking for an Indian Taco or a good deal on a hot tub (I don’t know why, but it seemed like every spa company in the state set up shop at the fairgrounds when I was a kid). There may be good intentions behind the “no guns allowed” policy, but the results are decidedly unimpressive, and it’s high time legislators make the Oklahoma State Fair great again by removing these useless restrictions on the right to carry and allow fairgoers to protect themselves while enjoying all the fair has to offer.