Backers of an approaching law allowing Oklahomans to carry a gun without training or a permit say they’re willing to test compliance with the law by showing up in certain places carrying a firearm.
These so-called Second Amendment “audits” have already occurred involving weapons, with permits, in parks and the Oklahoma City Zoo. But with a permitless carry law set to take effect Nov. 1, some supporters say they’re willing to visibly bear a firearm without a permit to ensure authorities honor the law.
That could mean appearances in city parks and other public places, with a rifle strapped over their shoulder.
Under current law, it’s legal for concealed or open carry permit holders to carry a pistol in a city park. But they can’t carry rifles or shotguns. When House Bill 2597 goes into effect Nov. 1, it will be legal for anyone aged 21 and over to carry pistols, shotguns and rifles in city parks. Another trailer bill, which also goes into effect Nov. 1, will allow only the carrying of concealed handguns in public trust parks like the Oklahoma City Zoo, the city’s new Scissortail Park or Gathering Place in Tulsa.
The confusion lies in the difference between municipal parks and parks owned or operated by a public trust or nonprofit. Most residents aren’t aware of the difference, said Stephen Krise, Oklahoma City’s police legal adviser.
A Second Amendment “audit” made headlines a year ago when Tulsa opened Gathering Place, the $465 million park along the Arkansas River. Members of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association have also shown up with guns to the Oklahoma City Zoo to test the law.
Such tests have drawn attention to nuances in current state law but also criticism that they are unnecessary and a waste of police time. Some are livestreamed and then posted on YouTube.
Last spring, Edmond police responded to reports of a man with a rifle in Hafer Park. More than half a dozen officers responded to what amounted to a test by Tim Harper, a Choctaw resident who has more than 20,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. Harper had a modified pistol that looked like a rifle at a distance but was within the legal length limits for modified handguns.
“You understand what that looks like?” an officer asks Harper during the March 29 encounter.
“I understand that exactly what some people that don’t know it could look like or from a distance, but after Nov. 1, you’re going to get a lot of that,” Harper said on the video.
Harper and Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, later met with Edmond police officials to discuss the law and the upcoming changes to it. Spencer said he’s also encouraged Harper not to do further tests with that modified pistol until Nov. 1 or unless he has notified law enforcement beforehand.
“We do not go do audits to get a rise or see what the police response is,” Spencer said in an interview with Oklahoma Watch, adding. “What we will do is if there has been a problem in an area, then we will go in and do an audit. My objective is not to be in your face. My objective is to be able to carry without a hassle.”
Reached by phone, Harper said said he’s holding off on doing additional Second Amendment test until after petition-gatherers for State Question 803 have finished. If that question makes the ballot, voters would decide on whether to repeal permitless carry. He’s also slowed the pace since the mass shootings earlier this month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“I don’t want to traumatize anybody or get the wrong response,” Harper said. “I’m more about educating someone.”
However, after Nov. 1, Harper said he has plans to visit several city parks over two weeks with his rifle and his HAM radio. He plans to broadcast via radio and possibly YouTube Live any response he gets.
Among the groups criticizing such tests, and especially the one in Edmond, is Moms Demand Action, a nationwide network of groups advocating for stronger gun laws.
“These audits terrify children and families,” said Cacky Poarch, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in central Oklahoma. “It’s scary when you’re seeing somebody with that type of firearm that has been retrofitted, you know, even though he says it’s legal, he made it look like it was an illegal firearm. If he’s not doing it to scare people, he’s doing it to get attention. That is a burden on police. When permitless carry goes into effect, they cannot ask him if he has a permit. That is terrifying.”
Even with permitless carry, weapons are prohibited in city buildings or city-owned or leased office space, schools and courthouses, said Krise, the police legal advisor. Guns are also banned in publicly owned sports arenas during professional sporting events unless the event holder allows it. That said, the definitions of a firearm aren’t always consistent in state law and there’s plenty of exceptions. For example, you can carry firearms into a fairground unless it’s during the Oklahoma State Fair or the Tulsa State Fair.
“The risk you have is some people may read the law and interpret it incorrectly, but they’re convinced that they’re right,” Krise said.
“We’ve spent numerous hours trying to train on this: How are we going to react and how are we going to respond?”
Oklahoma City is finishing up work on the new downtown Scissortail Park and will have a grand opening celebration at the end of September that will include rock band Kings of Leon.
Spencer, of the Second Amendment Association, said he plans to attend the park’s opening celebrations with a handgun to test current law. “Our immediate concern is they’re making all handgun license holders go in one gate. And our concern is that then they’re going to just put us in a box and say we cannot leave that area, which would be unconstitutional.”
Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager said city officials have been dealing with First or Second Amendment tests for a couple of years Yager sent a memo to city departments advising that “audits” were possible and to be respectful during any interactions with auditors.
The Second Amendment Association, along with dozens of Republican lawmakers, filed a legal challenge against SQ 803 on Monday. Backers of the referendum need almost 60,000 certified signatures by Aug. 29 to make it the ballot.