MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 20, 2013

State's lawmakers push to expand gun rights


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — While President Obama is calling for further restrictions on access to guns, Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing in the other direction, introducing dozens of bills that would make it easier for people to carry firearms and to carry them into government meetings, state parks and even public schools.

More than two dozen bills were filed in the Senate to expand gun rights before Thursday's bill filing deadline, and nearly that many were prepared in the House. The 2013 session opens Feb. 4.

"Clearly in Oklahoma we are strong supporters of gun rights and gun ownership rights, and I think you're going to see a lot of legislation protecting that, whether it's my bill or other bills that are out there," said Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid.

Anderson has proposed a bill that would exempt Oklahoma-made guns and ammunition from federal regulations. Then-Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a similar bill three years ago.

Freshman Sen. Nathan Dahm would take that further — declaring that the federal government has no right to regulate firearms in Oklahoma, that any attempt to do so "shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state," and that violators face up to five years in prison.

"The Declaration of Independence guarantees us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. "If you cannot protect yourself, you can't continue to pursue liberty and pursue happiness."

But Joseph Thai, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oklahoma, said many traditional firearms restrictions are constitutional.

"Under well-settled Supreme Court precedent, a state has no power to declare federal law unconstitutional, much less declare enforcement of federal law illegal," Thai said. "The bill's novel and absolute declaration that all federal firearms laws violate the Second Amendment is not only flatly wrong as a matter of basic federal constitutional law, but also dead on arrival because that declaration has no legal force and effect on the validity of federal law."

Dahm also wants any law-abiding Oklahoman to be considered as authorized to carry a gun and that those over age 21 should be able to carry a gun in their vehicle without a permit.

In the wake of the shooting deaths of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school, several of this year's bills target the carrying of firearms in schools. One measure, by Sen. Ralph Shortey, would let any school employee with a firearms license take their guns to school.

"The freer access and more access to firearms by law abiding citizens, the better," said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City. "The question is not are we going to ask our teachers to be guardians in our schools. They already are. They are the only person standing between a nut and our children. Let's give them an opportunity to defend themselves with more than just their lives."

House and Senate leaders have created a special commission on school safety that includes law enforcement, homeland security experts, mental health officials and educators. Some legislators fear their colleagues are going too far to appease constituents or express displeasure with the president.

"I think these bills are definitely knee-jerk reactions to a great deal of fear-mongering that's taking place across the country," said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman. "We saw the same thing going on the last couple of years with the Affordable Health Care Act. In my opinion, most of this is due to an irrational hatred of President Obama."

Democrats, she said, "want solutions based on facts and experts, not pieces of legislation that are fueled by an intense hatred of the president."

Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, backed a successful proposal that as of last Nov. 1 lets Oklahomans with a gun license openly carry a firearm. As chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, he can influence whether any of the 2013 gun bills will be addressed. He said he is not eager to expand the open carry law just yet.

"Between Nov. 1 and today, there has not been, in my opinion, ample time for the citizens to become comfortable with what we've already done," Martin said.

Martin does anticipate seeking to tighten access to weapons, through a measure that would require county court clerks to report to state and federal officials when a criminal defendant is adjudicated as having a mental illness that could potentially make that person a danger to himself or others.

"At the end of this session, in the eyes of some I will be a gun nut, and in the eyes of others I will be a Second Amendment traitor," Martin said.

Gov. Mary Fallin, who this month applied for a handgun license, withheld judgment on the proposed bills and said she is eager to see what the commission on school safety recommends.

"In general, I will tell you that I will always defend and stand up for our Second Amendment rights and the rights to be able to bear arms," she said.