Despite strong legislative support, Oklahoma's attempt to enact so-called "Constitutional Carry" has been dealt a setback from quarters assumed to be "pro-gun."
"Gov. [Mary]Fallin vetoed this important piece of self-defense legislation despite the state legislature's overwhelming approval of the bill and her commitment to NRA members to support constitutional carry when she ran for reelection," NRA Executive Director for Legislative Affairs Chris Cox declared Friday. "Make no mistake, this temporary setback will be rectified when Oklahoma residents elect a new and genuinely pro-Second Amendment governor."
"The measure had passed the Senate by a vote of 33-9 and the House by 59-28," USA Today noted in a Saturday report. "The Legislature already has adjourned its session so lawmakers will not be able to revisit the issue until next year after the election of a new governor."
Why did an A-rated and NRA-endorsed politician, someone billed as "a strong defender of Second Amendment rights," let supporters down on "legislation she promised to sign"?
"The bill had drawn opposition from the business community and law enforcement authorities," USA Today explained. The LEOs wanted licensing fee revenues, and the businesses didn't want citizens they consider "untrained" being armed on their property.
There was also opposition from another source many considered unlikely, and one that has generated no small amount of anger and accusations: The Oklahoma Rifle Association, NRA's official state affiliate, came out against the bill.
"The Oklahoma Rifle Association opposes passage of the Constitutional Carry legislation as currently written," group President Gary Don Scott announced in an April 26 letter to state politicians. "We feel the legislation needs to include background checks and some firearms training."
How did ORA arrive at such a consensus?
"We conducted a survey of our membership on how they feel about Constitutional Carry legislation for our great state," the letter continued. "The majority of the members who completed the survey feel the legislation needs to include some training and background checks. Based on the results of the survey, the Oklahoma Rifle Association opposes the passage as currently written."
"The ORA does support Constitutional Carry in Oklahoma, just not as it is written in SB1212," the group explained on its Facebook page in response to angry gun owners. "The ORA will always be an advocate for Second Amendment rights. (Note: We have read the bill. It is poorly written.)"
Wanting to find out what that meant, I called President Scott to find out why ORA opposed the bill, what was wrong with it, what ORA would support, and how a members consensus was determined. Because the M.O. of many "journalists" is pretending to be polite and interested and then turning around and writing a hit piece, I was up-front on my belief that background checks and training requirements to exercise a right are prior restraint "gun controls," and that my intent was to balance that with an accurate representation of their position.
ORA's concern is that people totally unfamiliar with guns could start to carry them, creating a new potential for disaster.
Scott repeated the assertion that the bill was "very poorly written and was going to cause us some issues," and when I asked for examples, he told me of two additional concerns ORA had besides background checks and training.
It "dictated" that law enforcement officers carrying concealed off-duty would be required to have their "service weapon approved and issued by the employing agency" (evidently some departments don't issue firearms, and the officers obtain their own).
It would also, Scott maintained, make any shortening of long gun barrel length illegal, even if federal law was not violated. Per section H. (pg. 11):
"For purposes of this section, 'sawed-off shotgun or rifle' shall mean any shotgun or rifle which has been shortened to any length."
How that could override existing statute is unclear.
ORA members, Scott informed me, "recommended we stay out of the fight."
Their opinions were solicited via a mailer most did not respond to, Scott admitted, but most of the ones who did opposed the bill. I asked him for a copy of the mailer to make public and he indicated he'd look into it.
Scott assured me the executive board and "90% of the full board are veterans" who believe in the Constitution but also in "common sense."
I reiterated that I wanted to make certain I was accurately representing ORA's position and asked if the group was going to issue a release explaining it. I was told such a statement will be forthcoming, but that the board has jobs and will do so as they can.
My own conclusion: The bill is far from perfect, but it's an improvement.
With regard to ORA's "background checks" objection, no less a source then the National Institute of Justice admitted, "Effectiveness depends on the ability to reduce straw purchasing, requiring gun registration... Besides which, "prohibited persons" aren't legally allowed to have a gun, much less carry one (not that it stops criminals), and the bill will do nothing to change that. It also effectively takes people who have bought their firearms via private sales out of the loop.
With regard to concerns on training, true, I'm a big believer. I'm also a big believer in individual responsibility, and see mandating everyone to prove themselves before being allowed to exercise a fundamental right as a much bigger danger.
As for the cop concern, you don't stop the bill because of that. If it really turns out to be an issue, you fix it. As for the short barrel concern, again, the existing statute would appear to take precedence. Along those lines, I asked if ORA had obtained a legal opinion on their objections from an attorney and was told "No."
Likewise, I asked if NRA, which supports the bill and with which ORA affiliates, had been consulted. "No," I was told, "they didn't say anything to us, it came up fast and there was no reason for it."
I was informed ORA will be "working on [an official statement] over the next few days" and a copy of the survey sent to the membership would "probably" be included. I asked if I could get a copy of it to include in this report and was told it would be looked into.
I was also told the board had a meeting last night (Tuesday, May 16) to discuss the bill and the repercussions ORA is facing due to its stance.
"Next session we'll probably come up with a modified bill," Scott said.
If what they come up with requires background checks and training, it will not, by definition, be "Constitutional Carry." It will be a de facto permit system that will require records and validation. With law enforcement already complaining about loss of fees, the questions become who will administer and pay for it, and what new penalties will be created if someone carries without jumping through all the hoops?
I feel bad filing this report. Talking with Mr. Scott, he comes across as a salt-of-the-earth guy, a hard worker, sincere in his beliefs. My guess is most of the board is probably like that, and that the accusations and anger they're being subjected to after all the (often unappreciated) volunteer work they do is very personally hurtful.
That said, intentions shouldn't trump results, and it's understandable why so many Oklahoma gun owners of equally good character are so upset with them.
At this point, the most appropriate thing to call for is an official statement along with the public release of all relevant information, including exactly what members were asked, how many members responded, how many who responded were board members, and what each of the responses were. I also invite the ORA board to respond to this article and clarify or rebut points made.
This article will be updated if and when that happens.
Ultimately, it will be up to ORA members to decide the direction they want their association and its leadership to take.
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine, a featured contributor to AmmoLand, contributor to Firearms News website and magazine, and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at "The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance" and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.