Friday was a big day for Don Spencer, a Tulsa-born and raised, Union High School Class of 1977 grad who has become perhaps the state’s top unpaid advocate for gun rights.
He is the ever-visible, some might say persistently vexing, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, a nonprofit which actually does bill itself as the state’s top advocate for firearms rights.
As more than 200 gathered on the south side of the Oklahoma Capitol on Friday to celebrate the effective date for Oklahoma’s “constitutional carry” law, Spencer clearly held celebrity status. People still were shaking his hand, taking photos with him and thanking him more than an hour after the event ended.
Spencer makes it clear that he is an unpaid, volunteer advocate, not a lobbyist, much as he is present around the Capitol during legislative sessions and ever-present as a spokesman on local media.
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City and co-author of the House Bill 2597, the constitutional carry bill, announced to Friday’s crowd that “this is my first time carrying (a firearm) at the Capitol,” and added, “If it wasn’t for Don Spencer and Oklahoma 2A, this bill would not have been passed.”
Spencer simply told folks there was no need to thank him. He’s just trying to “rid the state of stupid,” he said.
“My objective in life here is to take the stupid out of our Oklahoma gun laws,” he said. “At one point you could buy yourself a private bus and put it on your private property and walk on there with a gun and be committing a felony with a $10K fine — and that’s just stupid,” he said.
Some would argue his frame of reference, however. Some label him gun-nut-in-chief. A Lost Ogle headline last year stated, “Local weirdo wants to carry a gun around the OKC zoo.”
He wears a body camera as a matter of course.
“If I hit record it automatically includes the 60 seconds prior,” he said.
After Friday’s rally, a second event was planned for the Oklahoma City Zoo, where police escorted him out after he was told to leave because he had a concealed firearm. The zoo banned him from the premises for life.
New laws now specify individuals can carry concealed weapons in municipal zoos or parks owned, leased, operated or managed by a public trust or nonprofit entity.
In October he was kicked out of the Octoberfest in Tulsa. He filed a complaint with the Tulsa Police Department and he still holds that he may file a lawsuit. Operators of the event and River Parks Authority hold that the event was private, not public.
Spencer holds that his approach is different than many Second Amendment “auditors” who attempt to educate police and the public on YouTube. He carries a copy of the law and carefully explains his position, he said.
A photographer for Kerr McGee for 40 years, he was laid off and for a few years performed a variety of jobs for oil field production company Kimray in Oklahoma City. He is a certified CLEET instructor, licensed security officer and holds a commercial driver’s license for Class-A trucks.
Married 36 years, he said, “You do what you need to do to support your family.”
When things slowed for Kimray in 2016 he was again laid off but the mortgage was paid off and he’s been enjoying a “retired” life the past three years.
The move into gun activism started with his armed security training 10 years ago, he said.
“I couldn’t carry a gun and leave it in my car at the vo-tech school, which was a felony, but here I am taking an armed security class (at the school). I thought, ‘This is the absolute dumbest thing.’ ”
He approached a legislator who agreed it was a problem, but nothing happened.
“The next year I walked in from work, in to here,” he said, indicating the state Capitol building behind him. “I’m in blue jeans and coveralls and stuff and I said this is why this needs to happen and it came out of committee on an 8-7 vote. I thought, ‘So this is all it takes to make this happen!’ ”
He managed to walk a bill through the legislative process allowing firearms in locked cars on CareerTech parking lots, got a meeting with Gov. Mary Fallin and the law ultimately was changed.
“I thought, if one guy can do this, what can a bunch of people do?” he said.
That set the stage for 2016, his retirement and his connection with OK2A co-founder Tim Gillespie. He soon became president of the group.
“There was a short between what was nationally being addressed and what was being addressed right here in our own state,” he said. “I knew firearms, I knew firearm laws, I knew where they were stupid and I could say ‘well, this is stupid, I know where we can fix this,’ and I barely made a C in English and here I was writing gun laws.”
Spencer said he has learned the legislative process and where holes develop and how to fill them and that’s how things get done. “Stupid,” cured by common sense, figures heavily into his success.
“We had a law where you’ve got a peaceful person and they could literally step up on a curb and they’re committing a felony because they stepped on a school property? ... We got that fixed,” he said.
Guns still are not allowed on school properties, but now it’s a misdemeanor and as of Nov. 1 someone who visits a school can have a gun in their vehicle as long as it is secured and out of sight.
The group has reduced the severity of eight such laws, he said. And he has a long list of future targets, including carry for employees on public properties and firearms at college campuses.
Spencer can relate three occasions when he personally relied upon a self-defense weapon to thwart a potential crime. He’s never had to fire a gun at someone. Twice he pulled his pistol, both of which involved late-night home break-ins where the sight of the gun — through a window in one case and in the man’s face in another — caused a retreat. On another occasion he stopped a robbery in a Tulsa gas station and felt confident, with his firearm concealed, to make it known to a pair of men “casing the joint” that they were being watched.
“These legal changes don’t happen by accident,” he said, “I did this absolutely selfishly, but I always know that if one person does something that benefits them, others may benefit as well. So, I did this for me. I know the whole state can benefit, but I did it for me first so there’s no need to thank me.”