Oklahoma has looser gun laws in its sights. State legislators, last week, passed a bill that will allow Oklahomans to openly carry guns in public. The bill is now awaiting Governor Mary Fallin's signature. Fallin has already pledged her support to a "responsible" open carry law if it came to her desk. Senate Bill 1733 would essentially allow people who get concealed carry permits to openly carry their guns as well.
Oklahoma is one of eight states where open carry is currently illegal. We wanted to see what an open carry state is like, so our Oklahoma Impact Team traveled to Oregon where it is already legal to carry guns openly in public.
Medford, Oregon is an agricultural part of the state where people are largely conservative and vote Republican. Steve and Lisa, a couple who carry guns every day, say it's a great place to call home. They asked us not to disclose their last name in an effort to keep some of their information private. The couple has made many parts of their lives public already by posting videos almost every day on their YouTube channel.
The couple documents their family's passion for exercising their second amendment right. They've posted videos of all the ways guns are relevant to them, from their 10-year-old shooting a rifle to videos of the couple open-carrying in a restaurant. With more than two thousand subscribers the family has been nicknamed, "The Brady Bunch with Guns."
"I carry everyday," said Steve. "Now I've been doing it for so long that if I don't have my sidearm on me I just feel like I'm walking out the door with no pants on. It just becomes second nature."
Steve says carrying a gun is not a decision he takes lightly.
"When you mentally decide that you're going to carry a firearm, whether it be open like mine is here or concealed, you need to be prepared mentally and physically," he said pointing to the black handgun in a holster on his belt.
Steve trains at a nearby gun range regularly, even shooting after running in place to practice his aim with elevated blood pressure. He says if he's ever attacked he will be ready, but hopes that never happens.
Steve and Lisa have friends who share their passion for guns and gun rights. We went to lunch with a small group of them and talked about the reasons they choose to open carry instead of concealed carry. They all agreed it's really about their personal safety.
Each one of them said, "I don't want to be a victim."
"It's a preventative measure," said one friend named Aaron. "They see it on you and they're not going to go after you, you know? It's a deterrent more than anything."
The open carriers said they've rarely had negative reactions from people. They say most people don't even notice, but their guns do seem to attract the attention of children who then alert their parents. There were only five other people in the restaurant when were there and none of them noticed the guns just feet away from them.
But local police say people do notice open carriers.
There is another Medford man who demonstrates his open carry rights on a YouTube channel. He goes by "Marked Guardian" and police say he triggers calls for service regularly. He purposely tests the police on a regular basis, arguing for his rights to carry guns no matter where he is.
"For someone to be walking through the streets of downtown Medford with a rifle slung over his shoulder, that's going to generate a call for service," said Medford Police Chief Tim George. "Someone is going to call us and say hey, there's a guy walking around here that's got this rifle."
Chief George says open carrying hasn't caused any major problems but it definitely makes some people feel uneasy. When police get calls about guns they always go check it out.
"We would be remiss in our duties if we didn't check that out," said George. "You should fire me if I don't check that out."
We should note, under Oklahoma's proposed law, it will not be legal for people to openly carry a gun with an overall length more than 16 inches.
We wanted to see first hand how people react to open carriers.
We had Steve stand on the corner of Main Street with a loaded weapon on his side, out in the open. Dozens of people walked right by Steve without noticing anything. There were a few who seemed to notice the gun and take a second glance but kept on walking. When we added three more open carriers and a child more people seemed to notice the guns. Most we talked to offered support.
"It doesn't bother me," said one man.
But there were a couple of people who shook their heads negatively as they walked by and two people who told us they thought it was dangerous and made them feel nervous.
There was one interaction that was the most telling of all. A man walks by, notices three guys wearing guns and asks, "What's going on? Guys with guns?"
He seemed to play it cool but was concerned enough to come back to ask more questions.
"So what are you guys cops or something?" he asked.
"No, just citizens," Steve replied.
"Jeez. Don't shoot anybody down here," he said and started to walk away. But then he came back.
"So you're just trying to show that you can do that? Is that it?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Steve.
After a short conversation the man tells the group that surprisingly he feels safer knowing they're there.
"Alright," he said shrugging his shoulders. "Have fun."
We called every single sheriff in Oklahoma to see how they feel about open carry. Ten out of 77 sheriffs support open carry whole-heartedly. Fourteen sheriffs say they support the open carry concept, but have serious issues with the ambiguity of the actual law. Twelve say they can't make up their mind one way or the other. But the largest group of sheriff's we talked to, 32 of them, say they are against open carry altogether. The rest wouldn't comment or didn't get back to us.
Many of the sheriffs opposed to the open carry law offered these arguments:
- They won't be able to tell the bad guys from the good guys.
- It will be dangerous for the person openly carrying the gun.
- There will be more officer-involved shootings.
- There will be more guns stolen because citizens don't have weapon retention training.
Senate Bill 1733 was sent to Governor Fallin's office on Monday, May 14th. She has five days to sign it into law. If she signs it, it will be legal to openly carry handguns in Oklahoma beginning in November 2012.
Governor Fallin's Press Secretary sent this statement to the Oklahoma Impact Team in an email:
"Governor Fallin is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. She is a gun owner and a member of the NRA herself. The governor supports responsible ‘Open Carry' legislation, and she will review SB 1733 with her legal and policy staff to ensure it meets that definition before commenting any further on this legislation."