gun restrictions
Roxanne Blystone, the legislative assistant for Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle), speaks with members of Moms Demand Action on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. From left to right, MDA members include Laura Schulze, Stacey Lea, Jan Ashcraft, Teresa Board and M.J. Landwer. (William W. Savage III)

Two weeks after 17 people died in a Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Oklahoma advocates rallied for gun reform at the state Capitol on Tuesday while other citizens showed up to support three bills aimed at loosening gun restrictions Wednesday.

More than 100 members of the Oklahoma chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national organization devoted to demanding action on gun reform, were at the Capitol Tuesday to speak with legislators about state gun regulations. The national organization was founded the day after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting and now has chapters in all 50 states.

Oklahoma’s chapter has seen an expansion in membership, from only five members in 2012 to now more than 3,000, according to Alyson King, co-leader of the Oklahoma chapter. She said about 600 members have joined in the past two weeks.

“In Oklahoma, we constantly play defense,” said Christine Jackson, the group’s other co-founder. “We’d love to see our chapters grow and our voice get stronger so that we are able to introduce legislation that keeps people safe.”

Last legislative session, the Oklahoma Chapter of Moms Demand Action successfully lobbied against HB 2322, HB 2323, SB 6, SB 43 and SB 275. Those bills focused on issues in gun violence and possession, ranging from allowing people to carry handguns in motor vehicles without a permit with HB 2323, to allowing out-of-state attorneys or interest groups to sue Oklahoma for enforcing gun regulation with HB 2322. Moms Demand Action’s local leaders insist gun sense is a regulation and enforcement issue.

“Instead of taking people’s guns away from them, we’re talking about limiting their magazine capacity,” King said. “We’re not against people owning a gun. We just believe in responsible gun ownership (…) and common sense gun laws.”

Legislators have reported healthy conversation with Moms Demand Action and are willing to hear their cause.

“I really like people who are passionate about their beliefs,” Rep. Greg Babinec (R-Cushing). “I’m passionate about my beliefs. They’re doing what they believe is the right thing to do, and I’m doing what I believe is the right thing to do by my constituents and by me personally.”

As Moms Demand Action advocate for more restrictive gun measures, lawmakers Wednesday advanced bills that soften gun restrictions.

‘Force must be met with force’

gun restrictions
Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) presented and passed three bills related to firearms Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, out of the House Public Safety Committee. (William W. Savage III)

Three bills passed a House Public Safety Committee that was packed with MDA representatives and gun-rights advocates alike:

HB 2951, 2918 and 3192 are all authored by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield). HB 3192, which gives school boards the option to create their own firearm-carrying programs for school personnel, comes on the heels of the arrest of a Georgia teacher who discharged his handgun in a high school.

“Force must be met with force,” Coody said in committee. “This is the only bill and will be the only bill until next year that will address this.”

After lengthy discussion, HB 3192 passed with a vote of 11-5. Under the provisions of the bill, school staff members would need to have a permit to carry a weapon, and someone without a license could not bring a weapon into the school.

Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) debated in favor of the bill, noting that rural schools are often more isolated and farther away from law enforcement at any given moment.

“I’ve got one that’s somewhere between 30 minutes to 45 minutes from a local sheriff’s department,” Humphrey said.

He reminded lawmakers that HB 3192 would be a voluntary measure for school districts.

HB 2951, which allows for individuals to be able to carry firearms into locations that are not already prohibited by law, passed in committee with a 10-6 vote. Although it passed, some representatives, such as Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore), disapproved of the measure.

“If we’re just saying you’re 21 and you’ve got a driver’s license so you can carry, we’re missing a few steps in there,” Ownbey said.

HB 2918, which allows gun owners to carry weapons on their personal property without a license, passed with a vote of 12-3 in committee.

Moms Demand Action now seeks to counter these bills as they are eligible for consideration on the House floor.

‘Messing with guns is not the answer’

In 2018, there have already been a total of 8,661 incidents involving firearms in the United States. More than 2,300 people have died because of firearms this year and 35 mass shootings have occurred.

When looking at the United States from a global perspective, America contains 42 percent of the world’s civilian-owned weapons stock even though the U.S. only represents 4 percent of the world’s population. However, some still argue about the cause of widespread gun violence.

“I believe we’re looking at the thing backwards,” said Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville). “Messing with guns is not the answer. The answer is the individual.”

As reported by the New York Times, a study conducted in 2015 analyzing 235 mass killings showed only 22 percent of offenders were linked to mental illnesses. There is a link to mental ailments in mass killings, but the link is not as strong as some Americans think.

Mass shootings ‘quickly forgotten’

Now, in the aftermath of what has been an already violent year in terms of gun violence, groups like Moms Demand Action are participating in March For Our Lives, a nationwide event that calls for an end to gun violence and mass shootings in schools.

“Our main goal is to do what adults haven’t been able to do,” said Sophia Fultz, an organizer of Tulsa’s March For Our Lives. “Time and time again, mass shootings are met with outrage but quickly forgotten. I believe that if we push hard enough and long enough, we’ll be able to make the change we’re looking to make.”

As legislators continue to engage in dialogue about gun restrictions and advocates push for greater gun sense, time will be the telling factor in the local and national saga of firearm violence.

“I thought after Sandy Hook that things were going to change, and they didn’t,” King said. “To have a shooting happen in a high school where students are already voting age or will be voting age by the time the next election comes, legislators can’t ignore [their] voice.”

(Update: This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. Thursday, March 1, to include an additional quote.)