Legislation removing all licensing and training requirements for handguns moved through the Oklahoma House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon.
Billed as constitutional carry, House Bill 2597 doesn’t change where guns are allowed or, for the most part, who can carry them. It passed 70-30, with all 24 Democrats and a handful of Republicans in opposition.
The bill was authored by about a dozen Republican House members.
“What this does is allow, as the constitution states, that a person can carry a firearm without having to purchase that right,” said Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore. “The Constitution clearly states that we have right to keep and bear arms.”
West said the cost of training and licensing is an unconstitutional barrier to gun ownership, and said HB 2597 will particularly benefit poor people.
“I know a few poor people,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, whose district covers a wide swath of low income neighborhoods. “Not one of them has ever come to me and said my big issue is deciding between a gun and a sandwich.”
Democrats managed to hold the bill up for nearly two hours with questions and debate, during which they tried to portray HB 2597 and its supporters as both hypocritical and just plain wrong. On at least one occasion, some Democrats tried to amend the bill to allow guns in the Capitol, but that was quickly shot down.
“If guns make a place safer, why wouldn’t you want to make own workplace safer?” asked Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City.
West said that might be “in another bill” and conceded HB 2597 is not a “pure” constitutional carry measure.
“It’s permitless carry,” he said.
State Rep. John Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said HB 2597 does make it easier for individuals to carry handguns, but actually increases the penalties for carrying them where they are not allowed. He said it also gives college campuses more latitude in controlling firearms.
A Senate version of constitutional carry, Senate Bill 12, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, has not yet been heard in committee. Reportedly, the House version is more acceptable to groups that succeeded in convincing then-Gov. Mary Fallin to veto a similar measure last year.
Echols and West said 15 states have some form of unrestricted carry, including Kansas, Texas and Arkansas. They said the problems foretold by opponents of SQ 2597 have not surfaced.
Clearly, there was a disagreement on the usefulness of guns in tense situations. When someone asked if the bill would allow guns in crowded football stadiums (it does not), Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, answered, “If one of those bad guys showed up at the football stadium with a gun, wouldn’t you want me to have my gun to make sure he didn’t do anything?”