MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 17, 2013

Bill to keep guns away from youth sports events

Legislation would amend state’s open-carry law

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A local lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would amend the state’s open-carry gun law, prohibiting possession of firearms at locations where youth sporting events take place.

Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said the law already bans people from carrying weapons at professional sporting events and other athletic venues. Open-carry laws, however, exclude parks, recreation areas and fairgrounds from the list of places where firearms cannot be carried.

Leaving youth sporting events out of the mix of prohibited places, McPeak said, must have been “an oversight in drafting the bill.” He said one can logically conclude from provisions defining areas where firearms cannot be carried that they also should be banned at youth sporting events.

McPeak filed the bill, dubbed the Little League Protection Act, after he was alerted to concerns raised by Carson Lynch, recreation superintendent for Muskogee’s parks department. Lynch, who also serves as legislative committee chairman for a statewide organization made up of parks and recreation professionals, said the concern is shared statewide.

Lynch said during the past 20 years he has worked closely with youth sports programs. The potential for violence at youth events, Lynch said, is greater than it is at high school, collegiate or professional events.

“The vast majority of those parents who are out there can keep things in perspective,” Lynch said, citing his experience officiating sports at just about every level. “But I have also seen pillars of society go out there — and when you are dealing with somebody’s 5- or 6-year-old kid its more personal than someone like Kevin Durant (of the Oklahoma City Thunder) — and get pretty upset.”

McPeak, whose proposed amendment won the support of Muskogee’s city councilors, said he fears there may be some backlash from the National Rifle Association and its supporters. In order to minimize opposition, McPeak said the proposed amendment was tailored narrowly.

“If they do like they’ve done in the past, the NRA will jump on this like a bird on a June bug,” McPeak said. “But I don’t think anybody can say they want to protect Kevin Durant and then turn around and say they don’t want to give that same level of protection to our kids.”

The language included in McPeak’s bill would prohibit licensed gun owners from “carrying a concealed or unconcealed handgun into ... any park, recreational area or other facility where a youth sports activity is taking place.” McPeak considered included language that would include livestock shows but opted against it later.

“From my experience up there (at the Capitol), you have to put in what you think you can get through,” McPeak said. “I don’t see how anyone could think that protecting our kids is a bad thing.”

City councilors plan to draft a letter in support of the legislation, which was filed Thursday as House Bill 1607.

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