A glimpse from 2016 into a bucketful of confiscated guns in the Oklahoma City Police Department's property room. Credit: Michael Willmus / Oklahoma City

Mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend have put gun deaths and firearm laws back in the spotlight.

Oklahoma’s last major mass shooting event was in 1986, when 14 people were killed at an Edmond post office. But the state’s death rate from guns used in both suicide and homicide has been rising and a major loosening of gun regulations is upon us when the state’s new “permitless carry” law goes into effect Nov. 1.

How many Oklahomans die each year in gun deaths?

In the last decade, an average of 589 Oklahomans died each year from guns. By far, the largest share of those deaths was from suicide, with an average of 405 Oklahomans who shot themselves from 2007 to 2016, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. An average of 173 Oklahomans annually were victims of gun homicide in the same period.

However, the rate of gun deaths has been rising in Oklahoma. The state’s suicide rate from guns was 8.5 per 100,000 people in 2007; that increased to 12.7 per 100,000 people in 2016. And the homicide rate from guns rose to 5.9 per 100,000 people in 2016, up from 4.3 per 100,000 people in 2007.

What kind of guns are used in homicides?

In 2017, 167 people in Oklahoma died in homicides from guns. Handguns were used in 133 homicides, with rifles in six homicides and shotguns in five homicides, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Investigators couldn’t tell what type of gun was used in another 23 homicides.

Since 2005, the number of homicides by firearm rose most years in Oklahoma. The highest death toll, 168, came in 2016. Two years, 2010 and 2014, recorded 107 homicides by firearm, according to OSBI data.

How long have local police departments been training for “active shooters”?

Oklahoma City Police Department has been doing training for active or spree shooters for more than a decade in response to school shootings, said Master Sergeant Gary Knight. “The training has been modified and tweaked over the years in order to put us in the best position to quickly and efficiently address a mass shooting situation,” Knight said.

What do experts recommend doing if you are caught in a shooting spree?

Knight said the Oklahoma City police department periodically posts messages on its social media accounts on what to if confronted by a spree shooter. “We tell the public to remember the words, ‘Run, hide, fight,’” he said. “If faced with an active shooter, run. If you cannot escape by running away from the threat, then hide or conceal yourself as best as possible. If you are still unable to escape, then you must prepare yourself to fight.”

What are Oklahoma schools doing to prepare?

Schools are required to perform at least four lockdown drills per year for accreditation. In the drills, students as young as 3 years old practice hiding or shielding themselves from a shooter. Weapons are banned from school campuses and buses except by certain school personnel, an exemption that was approved in 2015. State law allows teachers or school staff to have a gun at school or on a school bus if the district’s school board approves and the person has an armed security guard license or a reserve peace officer certification; those require at least 240 hours of training.

This year, lawmakers proposed loosening those training requirements to allow teachers and school personnel with an Oklahoma Handgun License to be armed at school, but the bill stalled. One Oklahoma school district, Healdton (about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City) installed bulletproof storm shelters, according to KOCO. And some parents are taking extra precautions by outfitting their child with a “bulletproof backpack,” which are now sold in stores.

What’s changing with Oklahoma’s gun laws?

Oklahoma is one of 15 states that has approved “constitutional carry,” or permitless carry, according to the National Rifle Association. It means most residents 21 and older will be allowed to carry a gun, openly or concealed,  without any training, licensing, registration or background check required. The measure was the first Gov. Kevin Stitt signed after taking office earlier this year and goes into effect Nov. 1.

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