By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
In a field down an old dirt road on the east side of Muskogee, past rolling pastures filled with cattle, barns and rusted fences, sits a tiny, recently constructed classroom.
Every two weeks, about a dozen people fill the building for a gun safety course taught by one of Muskogee’s finest.
Deshayn Wilson has been an officer with the Muskogee Police Department for about 13 years, but he’s been enamored with guns since he first held a handgun as a 5-year-old under the watchful eyes of his father, uncle and grandfather.
Wilson teaches gun safety out of the “SBR Defensive Training” classroom near his home. He said business has picked up since Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill in May making Oklahoma the 25th state in the nation to allow registered residents to openly carry firearms. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
“I don’t know what it is exactly that’s gotten people so excited,” Wilson said. “But since the bill was signed, it’s been busier here.”
When Fallin signed the bill, she championed the responsible way it required Oklahomans to apply for licensure.
To receive a license, applicants need to submit to a background check by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and take a firearms safety course like the one Wilson teaches.
Area law enforcers haven’t expressed much concern since the bill was signed, but are preparing for “an adjustment period.”
“We operate under the assumption that everyone is armed,” said Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson. “If people are responsible about it and responsible about taking care of their weapons and protecting their weapons, I see it as a good thing.”
Pearson said he hopes the bill’s passage will make a “big turn in violent crime.”
“Statistically, drive-by shootings went down when people were able to carry concealed weapons,” Pearson said. “I’m kind of interested to see what happens.”
He said “as many deputies as we can send” have attended classes throughout the state on issues that may arise after Nov. 1.
Cpl. Pedro Zardeneta with the Muskogee Police Department said Muskogee City Attorney Roy Tucker sent a memo to the department in May.
That memo summarizes what is allowed during interactions between law enforcement and citizens legally or illegally openly carrying a weapon.
The memo states an officer may request a handgun license from a citizen openly carrying a weapon, but that the officer can’t disarm or restrain the citizen unless a license is not produced.
“Everyone’s been given a heads up on what to expect, what we’ll be dealing with,” Zardeneta said. “Hopefully, everything runs smoothly.”
Wilson said he’s unsure why people want to carry weapons openly, and he thinks excitement will die down after a month or two.
But in the meantime, he’s keeping his eyes open.
“I see more cons than pros, really,” Wilson said. “I believe people have a right to defend themselves. And I believe they have a right to own guns. But carrying a weapon carries a lot of responsibility.
“And unfortunately, there are a lot of irresponsible people out there.”
Wilson has a few concerns. Businesses can post notices denying entrance to anyone legally or illegally carrying a gun. So what happens when a card-carrying gun owner totes a firearm to a restaurant that doesn’t allow them on the premises?
“We’re going to see situations where people leave their guns in their vehicles to go inside,” Wilson said. “And that gun will be unprotected for 45 minutes to an hour.
“All it takes is one observant little thug and that gun can end up in the wrong hands.”
One aspect Wilson said hasn’t been questioned by many of the bill’s supporters — which, in the end, he considers himself one of — is gun retention.
“As an officer, our holsters work very well,” Wilson said. “But there’s no rule that says you can’t walk around with some old Wild West bucket holster for a revolver.”
It may look cool, Wilson said, but how safe is it?
“If someone tries to take my gun off my waist, it’s not happening, partially because of the holster,” Wilson said. “But what if someone tries to take a gun from someone open carrying and it’s not holstered well? Or they don’t know how to protect themselves from getting their weapon taken?”
Wilson said he and fellow SBR Defensive Training owner Lt. George Roberson, of the sheriff’s office, offer self-defense classes that will teach how to keep an unwanted person’s hands off your gun.
Jessicca Yarbrough is a fingerprinting specialist for the sheriff’s office. She handles all fingerprinting and background check paperwork for residents interested in applying for a handgun license.
“It’s been busy since the law was signed,” Yarbrough said. “We’ve done 17 applications this week for people wanting to get their license.”
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation records show 2,597 concealed carry license holders in Muskogee County. Statewide, OSBI records show 141,929 license holders.
Yarbrough’s records show a rise in applications after the bill was signed, and a recent rise as the Nov. 1 date grows near.
“The applications went down for a couple months,” Yarbrough said. “But it’s back up again.”
So far in October, 38 people have requested a handgun license.
Nothing has changed in the application process, Yarbrough said. Applicants fill out two background check sheets, she fingerprints them on the office’s Livescan machine and sends the completed file to the OSBI.
“It typically takes 60 to 90 days for the OSBI to return the license,” Yarbrough said. “The background checks take about two weeks.”
The license is only different visually, Yarbrough said. Instead of saying “concealed carry license,” it says “handgun license.”
“Functionally, it’s the same,” Yarbrough said. “If you had a concealed carry license before, you can openly carry a handgun. The requirements to get the licenses are the same.”
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or email@example.com.
Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office numbers detailing the number of handgun license applications since Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed the Open Carry Act.