Oklahoma

Guns up don’t shoot: Oklahoma’s civilian and police gun laws create confusion, danger for black residents

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Philando Castile’s permit to legally carry a gun became a point of focus in the days after he was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer.


Published 11/12/2018 | Reading Time 2 min 57 sec 

By Deon Osborne, senior writer   

Days after Oklahoma joined 15 other states to have the most unregulated gun laws in the nation: some Oklahomans are questioning the wisdom of that decision made by lawmakers.

An analysis of three Oklahoma laws, regarding guns and deadly force, indicate a conflict could potentially arise in which police officers legally shoot law-abiding gun-owners.

House Bill 2597, the new permit-less carry bill which went into effect at the beginning of November, allows Oklahomans over 21 or 18-year-old service members to open or concealed carry a firearm without a license or training– from handguns to AK-47’s.

Most recently, a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City Rep. Jason Lowe (D) to halt the law failed to receive an injunction from a judge.

Yet, at least one Black leader in Oklahoma is hopeful the law will eventually be repealed.

Joshua Harris-Till is a resident of Oklahoma City and President of Young Democrats of America. He led a veto referendum effort to repeal permit-less carry but fell about 20,000 signatures short of the proposal going to a statewide vote.  

Harris-Till believes an initiative petition to repeal permit-less carry would succeed in Oklahoma.

“The veto referendum fell short of the required signatures, but for context, we got over 60 percent of the signatures needed in less than 20 percent of the time,” Harris-Till said. “With a full 90 days, we could easily get the signatures needed.” 

A veto referendum seeks to undo a recent law, while an initiative petition proposes new legislation or an amendment to existing legislation.   

Because veto referendums must be approved within 90 days of the adjournment of the last legislative session, and since the petition only started circulated about a month from the deadline, supporters of the repeal had less time to gather signatures than if they had the full 90 days for an initiative petition.

“If the argument was just about the cost [of licensing and training], we should’ve gotten rid of the cost or lowered it, not gotten rid of the training and permitting,” Harris-Till said.

Meanwhile, another state law — Oklahoma Statute 21-1289.25 — allows these same untrained residents to stand their ground against an intruder in a home or a place of business. 

The self-defense law states the shooter is justified if “the person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.”

Folks who are simply enjoying their food in a restaurant could suddenly be forced into the middle of a Wild Wild West shootout anytime a gun owner with a handgun, or military-style weapon began to believe there was an intruder or felony crime being committed.

Furthermore, a third Oklahoma law allows police officers to use deadly force against civilians if they “reasonably believe the use of the force is necessary to protect himself or others from the infliction of serious bodily harm,” according to Oklahoma Statute 21-732. 

The question becomes: When police are called to a scene, where unlicensed open-carry gun owners are present, who are they to believe is a victim or a perpetrator?

For Black gun owners, racial bias within the police and among non-black Oklahomans make them an easy target regardless of their place in the situation, casting doubt on whether permit-less carry is a law that applies equally to black gun owners. 

Some already see double standards in the way one gun-rights activist has been going to various public and private places around the state performing what he calls “Second Amendment audits.”


 Tim Harper runs a YouTube channel in which he attempts to solicit reactions from residents, police and business owners as he open-carries his AR-15 and videotapes.

Recently, he went to a predominantly Black neighborhood of Northeast Oklahoma City, where he antagonized people at a restaurant and on the streets. 

“I have never thought this law [permit-less carry] would be equally applied,” Harris-Till said. “If a Black guy with multiple guns was walking through Nichols Hills [an upscale residential and shopping area] like Tim Harper did on the Eastside, there’s no way he could’ve stood with his hands in his pockets talking to the cops after repeatedly being told to remove them.”

The notion among Black residents that they may not be able to wield the same freedoms, as white gun owners, creates confusion and endangers any unlicensed, open-carrying Black resident willing to test the new law.


imageDeon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. Deon received the Governor’s Commendation in 2017 for his videography highlighting a statewide distracted driving prevention program and runs a freelance video marketing service at indepthwithdeonfilms.com. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works as a policy intern at the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

 

 

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