MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 28, 2013

McPeak bill to keep guns out of kids’ sports sites halted

Measure dies in committee without hearing

— A bill that would have banned the possession of handguns at locations where youth sporting events take place was shot down Wednesday by the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee.

House Bill 1607, filed by Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, would have amended the state’s open-carry laws to allow the prohibition. McPeak said state law already prohibits the possession of handguns at high school, collegiate and professional sporting venues. But it specifically exempts parks, recreational areas and fairgrounds where youth sporting events typically take place.

McPeak filed the bill in response to a request by the Oklahoma Recreation and Park Society, and it won the support of Muskogee city councilors. Carson Lynch, the chairman of the society’s legislative committee, said the issue was being discussed long before gun control “became a big, national issue” this year.

“I honestly think that is what killed it this year,” Lynch said of the gun control debate that erupted after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December in Newtown, Conn. “I have every intention of bringing this forward again next year. Anybody who thinks this is unnecessary just isn’t thinking it through.”

The House committee’s chairman, Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, said he denied McPeak’s bill a hearing because he “found it to be not very well thought out, poorly written and not needed.” Martin, however, did allow a hearing on House Bill 1775, which would have restored the gun rights of felons under some circumstances.

McPeak decried Martin’s decisions, saying the chairman let members hear a bill that would let “felons get guns” but not one that would “protect children at Little League games.” He confirmed Lynch’s suspicions, saying that Martin expressed skepticism about people wanting to “hear about not carrying guns to city parks.”

McPeak said: “I appreciate other folks’ views and respect the rights of other people to see things differently than I do. Also, I believe, to be fair with the people from Oklahoma, this bill to give cities the opportunity to post a sign for no guns where a youth sporting event is being held should be heard.”

McPeak said his bill posed no threats to gun ownership rights while protecting “good people from getting into bad trouble” at youth sporting events. He said denying it a hearing in committee “sucked the oxygen out of something” that he believes would have found broad support on the House floor.

Martin defended his decisions, saying it is his responsibility as the committee’s chairman to decide which bills should be heard. With regard to HB 1775, Martin said he was operating on the theory that a person convicted of a nonviolent crime should not be stripped forever of his or her Second Amendment rights. Speaking of McPeak’s bill, he differentiated between the venues for professional sports and youth sporting events.

“You can drive your car to a Thunder game and leave a firearm locked inside, go into a secure location where they sell beer — where fans do get excited — and at the end of the evening drive home while still in possession of a firearm,” Martin said. “When you are talking about a municipal park, you are going to take away the opportunity to leave the firearm in the car. Therefore you would be disarmed from the time you left your home until you got back.”

Martin said the broad language of McPeak’s bill could have been construed as a prohibition of carrying handguns at a park where “a few kids are playing basketball” or practicing another sport. When asked about the opportunity to amend the language during a committee hearing and assuage those concerns, Martin said it was his “decision not to hear the bill, and I don’t regret my decision.”

McPeak said he would review other public safety measures with an eye to inserting the language of his bill. But he said the chance of getting the legislation to a floor vote “is slim.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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