(Editor’s note: This story was authored by Ben Botkin of Oklahoma Watch and appears here in accordance with the non-profit journalism organization’s republishing terms.)
Every year, Oklahoma state lawmakers propose legislation to make carrying guns easier and push back on attempts to constrain gun ownership.
Yet nationally, firearms and momentum for stricter gun control continue to be high-profile issues that draw widespread attention after each mass shooting, whether in Nevada, Texas or Florida.
The mass shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida school earlier this month put a spotlight on the questions of who should be able to possess a firearm and what new restrictions, if any, there should be.
With little appetite among Oklahoma legislators for stricter gun laws, the only real question is when open-carry will be expanded to everyone, not just those with concealed-carry licenses. Perhaps the most impactful proposed gun law this session is House Bill 2951, which would allow anyone who’s 21 years or older (or 18 if they’re a veteran or member of the armed forces) and not a convicted felon to carry a weapon without obtaining a concealed-carry license. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Public Safety Committee.
The Washington Post examined gun regulations nationwide and found that Oklahoma was among those with the most lenient laws. Of seven types of regulations commonly found at the state level, Oklahoma had only one: a prohibition on high-risk individuals owning guns. This group includes felons, those convicted of violent misdemeanors, and those with a history of mental illness.
But even with relatively few restrictions on carrying and owning firearms, the tapestry of gun regulations in Oklahoma can generate confusion and raise questions about where guns can be carried and by whom. Following is a primer on gun laws in Oklahoma, particularly as they relate to schools, teachers and campuses.
Can public schools authorize staff, including teachers, to carry firearms?
Yes. A law passed in 2015 allows school personnel with a concealed carry license to attend an armed security guard training program and be armed on campus. But the law leaves the final decision up to the local school boards. So far, only one district in the state, Okay Public Schools, southeast of Tulsa, has passed a policy, and staffers have concealed weapons. Certified law enforcement personnel, such as school resource officers, may carry firearms in schools.
What about private schools?
State law allows private schools to make the decision on their own. A person with a concealed carry license can carry on private-school property, as long as the school has a policy that allows carrying.
What else is allowed at public schools?
State law allows guns and knives used for hunting and in privately-owned vehicles to be on campus, provided the vehicles aren’t unattended and are only there to transport students. Schools can use guns and knives for hunter and firearms safety courses, firearms sporting events, and living history reenactments with a school administrator’s permission.
Firearms used by veterans groups, the military and ROTC programs and ceremonies are also permitted as long as the firearms are not loaded and inoperable on campus.
Can handguns be carried on college campuses?
Having a concealed-carry license doesn’t authorize carrying on campus. However, handguns can be carried and stored in the owner’s vehicle, attended and unattended, while parked on college, university and technology center campuses. They cannot be removed without the consent of the school’s president or administrator. Schools also have the authority to designate certain areas of campus for possession of handguns. Schools can give written consent, which must be carried with the firearm.
How have lawmakers attempted to expand concealed- and open-carry?
Oklahoma state legislators’ efforts in recent years have included a 2012 law permitting open-carry for those with concealed-carry licenses, and the unsuccessful 2014 push to allow concealed-carry on college campuses. Subsequent laws have expanded the areas Oklahomans can carry guns to public buses, prohibited parking lot owners from banning firearms in vehicles, and allowed guns to be stored in locked containers on motorcycles.
What are the rules for open-carry?
Open-carry is only permitted for handguns that are less than 16 inches long and use .45-caliber ammunition or less. The firearms cannot be carried by hand and must be secured on your person in a holster or in a case. Anyone with a concealed-carry license may openly carry a handgun.
What prevents you from carrying a handgun?
Convicted felons cannot get firearms, unless they are a nonviolent offender and get their gun rights reinstated through a pardon. In addition to felonies, some misdemeanors will also prevent applicants from carrying a handgun:
- assault and battery that seriously harmed the victim,
- violating a protective order,
- domestic abuse
- and illegal drug use or possession.
Convictions for public intoxication and driving under the influence can be hindrances, too. Applicants with two or more convictions may have to wait for three years after completing their sentence, but waiting isn’t mandatory. Another option is getting a certified statement from a doctor that says an applicant doesn’t need substance abuse treatment. Having a history of mental illness can also disqualify applicants and require them to wait three to 10 years.
Where is open-carry forbidden?
Any private business may forbid firearms by posting a notice. Carrying firearms also is prohibited in government buildings and meetings of government officials, prisons and jails, professional sports events, at bars, and at public and private schools.
What can you carry without a concealed-carry license?
A license isn’t needed if you’re using a rifle, shotgun or handgun for hunting, in a training course, target shooting at a sporting event, or doing military- or police-related work.
What’s required for a handgun license for conceal- and open-carry?
Applicants must be a resident of Oklahoma and at least 21 years old. Honorably discharged veterans or members of the military can get a license if they are at least 18. The cost is $100 for a five-year license and $200 for a 10-year license. County sheriff’s offices process applications and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation completes the background checks, a process that takes about 100 days. An eight-hour safety and training course is also required.
Reach reporter Ben Botkin at email@example.com or (702) 418-6089.