OKLAHOMA CITY — Just hours after a controversial permitless carry bill sailed through the state Senate, Oklahoma’s Republican governor quickly signed it into law.
The action though came as no surprise to House Bill 2597’s supporters as Gov. Kevin Stitt had repeatedly promised to ink his name to the legislation more popularly known as “constitutional carry.”
It also marked the first legislation Stitt signed into law since being elected in November.
“Oklahomans are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and they made their voice known across all 77 counties last year,” Stitt said in a statement.
He said the legislation’s authors found a balance for both private property owners and Second Amendment rights.
The legislation allows anyone at least 21 years old without a felony conviction or other criminal records to carry openly or concealed with no permitting, licensing or training. The bill does not allow people to brandish firearms nor does it change where Oklahomans can legally carry. For instance, people would still be prohibited from carrying on college campuses, supporters said.
Supporters said Oklahomans could still obtain a permit or training if desired. Gun owners must still acquire a permit to legally carry in some other states.
“I think the governor has started on a good, positive step by keeping one of his main campaign promises,” said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association, whose group championed the measure.
In 2018, a similar measure easily cleared the Legislature, only to later be vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin after business leaders and law enforcement officials expressed public safety concerns.
When the law takes effect Nov. 1, Oklahoma will become the 16th state to allow constitutional carry, supporters said.
The bill’s author, state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, said federal background checks would still be mandatory to purchase a firearm.
Also because of reciprocity gun laws, the state already allows people who live in other states to carry in Oklahoma without a permit, she said.
“This bill simply allows law-abiding citizens that wish to carry a weapon to be able to do that in our state also without paying for the permit,” David said.
David said she often travels back and forth at night, and it’s always important to have a gun permit and to be prepared to protect yourself.
“That’s why we have these laws in Oklahoma,” she said. “It’s not because I want to brandish a big old firearm on my hip and wear it around. That’s not it at all. I do it for protection.”
The measure cleared the Senate 40-6 with Democrats largely opposing it.
Opponents cited public safety concerns and increases in the number of people maimed or injured in gun incidents in states that have already passed the law. They said they were concerned about the negative impact the measure could have on children.
State Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, said 2016-17 data showed an increase in gun deaths that exceeds the national average in states that have implemented permitless carry.
“One thing that we really trust in Senate District 16 is law enforcement to help keep the peace, and this bill changes the relationship between gun owners and law enforcement,” said state Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman. “This bill takes away a tool that law enforcement has trained on and is used to using in order to interact with gun owners in our community.”
Boren, who opposed the measure, said it creates a new standard for law enforcement when it comes to interacting with gun owners. She said she cannot support legislation that makes their job any harder.
While campaigning, Boren said she knocked on a lot of gun owners’ doors, and every one of them said the state needs better background checks.
This measure doesn’t provide that, she said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.