Packing in public: Open carry to start Nov. 1 in Oklahoma
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2012
10/21/12 at 7:25 AM
Learn more about the topic, read a Q&A, see how legislators voted.
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John Zane was anxious the first time he brought his handgun into a public place.
"I carried with my shirt over it, and I just knew everybody could see it," said Zane, who had his concealed carry license. It was well-hidden and no one could see the gun, but he was still anxious.
Zane, and anyone else with a handgun permit, can soon take the next step and openly carry a firearm where everyone can see it.
Senate Bill 1733, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 15, amends the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act to allow the open carrying of a firearm with a license and a few restrictions. After the bill goes into effect on Nov. 1, the more than 140,000 Oklahomans with a handgun license will no longer be required to have their weapon concealed in public.
Oklahoma will be the 44th state to allow the open carrying of firearms in some form, said Bryan Hull, one of the organizers for the Oklahoma Open Carry Association.
Some gun owners are eager for that day, saying they will be afforded more of the rights granted by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Others say the idea of sharing a space with an armed individual is frightening.
However, Zane and many in law enforcement don't expect many gun owners to take that next step either for tactical or safety reasons.
"I like the fact that my weapon is secret, that no one knows it's there until I need it," said Zane, the handgun license instructor at United States Shooting Academy. "I don't carry it for shock factor; I carry it for protection."
Some in law enforcement are concerned with some aspects of the law - such as how the gun can be carried and how officers check licenses - that they say are hard to clear up until after Nov. 1, or even later if the Legislature has to clarify the language.
The new law
On Nov. 1, a concealed carry license will simply become a handgun license - meaning to carry a handgun in the open or hidden from view, a license is required.
To openly carry, the handgun must be .45 caliber or less in cartridge size, must be less than 16 inches in length and must be in a "belt or shoulder holster." Any firearm is prohibited in federal, state or local government buildings or properties including schools and universities. Firearms also are prohibited in bars, sports arenas during events and any business that elects to prohibit them.
All applications for a handgun license go through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which certifies the training and completes a background check.
The bureau also tracks the number of people applying for the license, which has increased over the past year.
From the beginning of 2012 through the end of September, more than 23,000 people have applied for a handgun license, a 64 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. More initial applications were filed in the first nine months of this year than all of last year, when there were 17,798, according to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation data.
However, law enforcement officials and firearms class instructors said the increase likely has more to do with the upcoming election than changes in Oklahoma's handgun law.
"Ever since the presidential election has begun, it's gone up," said Maj. Shannon Clark, public information officer with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office. (An applicant must submit a license application to the local sheriff's office, which then sends it to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.)
As of Oct. 11, there were 140,034 active license-holders in Oklahoma, or about 3.7 percent of the state's population, according to the OSBI.
That's a small part of the population, and officials said they believe an even smaller portion will openly carry their firearms.
To carry or not to carry
One who plans to openly carry his handgun on Nov. 1 is Scott Hannaford of Tulsa. He said he will carry to feel safer and better prepared.
"People say, 'Why do you support open carry?' And I say, 'I like my criminals to make informed decisions,'" Hannaford said. "If you're going to attack me, I want you to know exactly what you're getting into. I don't carry a gun to be cool. I don't carry a gun because it's the in thing. I carry a gun because I don't want to be a victim."
Hannaford has carried a holster in public to show his support for open carry legislation. The holster has been empty except for a small piece of paper containing the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which says: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Hannaford and others said the restrictions on how they can carry their firearms infringe on that right. With the option now to openly carry, they said their rights are better recognized.
But the primary reason for many to openly carry is still safety, Hannaford said.
Hull, one of the organizers of the Oklahoma Open Carry Association, said he has seen firsthand the deterrent that openly carrying a firearm can provide.
Hull operates a towing company in Oklahoma City and openly carries inside his business. He said that practice thwarted an attempted robbery that was "abandoned as soon as they saw the firearms."
"What I want is to die a very old man with a nice collection of guns that never shot anybody," Hull said.
When the concealed carry legislation in the Self-Defense Act passed, Hull said he heard many of the same concerns people have now with open carry.
"People were coming up with all kinds of fantastical scenarios of road rage and blood running in the streets, and it didn't happen," Hull said. "We're very much looking forward to the opportunity to show the citizens of Oklahoma that lawful gun owners are nothing to be afraid of."
State Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, opposed the bill when it came up in the Legislature, and she said her concerns stand.
"I still think it's a bad bill," McIntyre said. "Like a lot of other people, I'm apprehensive."
She said many may feel the same, but support for the bill was overwhelming when it came up. If there were detractors, she didn't hear from them.
"When this bill came up, I don't remember being lobbied by anybody at the Capitol to say this is a bad bill," McIntyre said.
Now that it's set to become law, she said she will be nervous whenever she sees someone who is armed and will do what she can to avoid that person.
"I'm afraid of guns for one thing," McIntyre said. "I was a social worker, and I saw children killed by guns, whether it was criminal or accidental."
"It's less frightening if it's someone I know (who is armed), but to be at a place where you don't know the history or the background, it's frightening."
Effect on law enforcement
Law enforcement officials said they haven't had problems with concealed carry since its passage in 1995. In fact, many said those with licenses were well-informed about the law and its requirements.
"I think we have to look at historical data," Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said. "The same people that open carry have concealed permits, and there have not been any problems. They haven't been a danger to the public. They haven't been a danger to our officers."
Jordan said he has spoken with officials in states where open carry is allowed, which helped to quell some of his concerns. There haven't been many problems tied directly to open carry elsewhere, he said.
Police do have other concerns with the law, Jordan said. One is the expected increase in calls for a man with a gun. For those situations, officers and dispatchers will have to further assess the situation to determine if the person is behaving in a threatening manner or simply open carrying.
"We're going to make a distinction between a man with a gun call and an open carry call," Jordan said. "If someone is concerned enough about it and calls in about an open carry, we are going to respond to that call. But we're going to approach it much differently than (a hostile situation)."
Jordan said he also has concerns with the wording of the law as it relates to how police can ask someone for their license.
The law states that a person carrying a handgun must present a handgun license and driver's license or other state-issued identification when asked by an officer. If someone has a license but it's not on their person when requested by an officer, they could have their handgun seized or be arrested with the chance to prove they have a license within 10 days. But they still would be subject to punishment from the OSBI, according to the statute.
The question for Jordan regards a sentence in the law that creates uncertainty about how his officers should deal with the public. The law states: "... in the absence of reasonable and articulable suspicion of other criminal activity, an individual carrying an unconcealed handgun shall not be disarmed or physically restrained."
Jordan said it's unclear to him if simply asking someone for a license could be defined as being "restrained."
"I've told my officers, if you have a concern, ask them for their license," Jordan said. "If there's reasonable suspicion of probable cause (that a crime has been committed), of course they ask for their license. I just want to make sure my officers don't fall prey to any hysteria by the public that would have them abridging people's rights."
Other police departments around the state express similar concerns, said Phil Cotten, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police. Their advisement is "to leave people alone unless you have reason," Cotten said.
Although Zane said he is glad open carry will provide him more protection in case his concealed weapon becomes visible, it still won't be something he does regularly. That's something he also hears from his customers and students at the shooting range. The general feeling is also something he shares: He won't likely openly carry.
"I believe in it," Zane said. "I believe in everybody's right to self-protection, but I don't think I'll ever open carry unless I'm here at the academy or on my own property."
Many also agree that once the novelty wears off, people will see fewer openly carrying, or notice it less.
"My prediction would be that this is going to be a non-issue for Oklahoma just like it has the other states," Jordan said. "Gun ownership by good, law-abiding citizens is not a danger to the public."
Senate Bill 1733
What: Signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 15, the bill allows people with concealed carry licenses to carry their guns openly beginning Nov. 1. The bill amended the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.
No guns allowed: Guns still are not allowed at meetings of elected and government bodies; prisons, jails and other detention facilities; schools, colleges and technical schools; bars, taverns and night clubs; and arenas during sporting events.
Other exception: Businesses and property owners can legally prohibit someone from carrying a gun onto their premises.
Original Print Headline: Packing in public
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
John Zane watches the target while Carolyn Manes shoots during an introduction to marksmanship class at U.S. Shooting Academy in north Tulsa on Oct. 14. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Scott Hannaford demonstrates putting a pistol in his holster at his home in Tulsa. Hannaford plans to openly carry his handgun beginning Nov. 1. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Scott Hannaford has been wearing an empty holster in public to show support for open carry legislation. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World