Mass shootings at the Saint Francis Hospital on Wednesday in Tulsa, a Memorial Day festival in Taft, an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York have reignited the gun control debate.
Oklahoma House Democrats introduced a series of gun safety measures at a Thursday press conference, including proposals to repeal the state’s permitless carry law, strike down an anti-red flag law and implement a waiting period for firearms purchases. Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said the caucus has asked to amend the upcoming special session, which begins June 13, to include gun legislation.
“The time has finally come to rethink the way in which we’re writing gun laws in this country,” Nichols said. “Everyone is coming to the realization that this is not about partisanship. This is simply about safety.”
Republican Legislative leaders did not immediately respond to the Democrat's request to consider firearms regulations. Don Spencer, president of the influential Oklahoma Second Amendment Association who often helps Republican lawmakers craft gun legislation, wrote in a Facebook post that the measures are unlikely to succeed.
Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature has in fact expanded access to firearms over the past decade.
The most prominent example is House Bill 2597, commonly known as Oklahoma’s permitless carry law, which took effect in November 2019. It allows Oklahoma residents age 21 or older to carry a firearm in public without obtaining a license. Former Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a similar measure in 2018, citing safety concerns for law enforcement.
Senate Bill 1081, authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2020, forbids cities and counties from enacting red flag laws. The gun-control measure, adopted by 19 states nationwide, allows the public or police to petition a court to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if deemed a risk to themselves or others.
As lawmakers moved to loosen gun regulations, Oklahoma’s firearms mortality rate increased 31.8% between 2014 and 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Gun deaths from homicides, suicides and accidental discharges are included in the firearms mortality rate.
At 20.7 deaths per 100,000 residents, Oklahoma ranked 12th nationally in firearms mortality rate in 2020. The federal data shows gun deaths have increased nationwide over the past eight years.
State and federal law bar any person convicted of a felony from purchasing or possessing a gun. Those deemed mentally incompetent or whose mental competency is being challenged in court are also prohibited from acquiring a firearm.
Oklahoma does not impose waiting periods for firearms purchases. The gunman who shot and killed four people at the Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa on Wednesday afternoon purchased an AR-15 rifle one hour before carrying out the attack, police said Thursday.
Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers democracy for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss.