By SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma residents will be able to openly carry firearms without a background check or training under a bill given final legislative approval Wednesday that quickly became the first signed into law by the new Republican governor.
Dubbed “constitutional carry” by its supporters, the bill passed the Senate on a 40-6 vote with every Republican and one Democrat voting in favor. It already sailed through the GOP-controlled House.
The bill, which becomes effective Nov. 1, would allow most residents 21 and older to carry concealed or unconcealed firearms without a license. Exceptions would include anyone in the country illegally or those convicted of certain crimes. Firearms would still be prohibited in certain locations, including public buildings, schools, professional sporting events, casinos, and bars.
Currently, those wishing to carry a firearm in public must apply for a license that includes a state background check and completion of a training course.
“I just don’t like asking government for permission to exercise a constitutional right. It’s that simple,” said Don Spencer, a citizen activist who has pushed for looser gun laws at the Capitol for nearly a decade.
Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed the plan on the campaign trail and held a signing ceremony Wednesday afternoon, flanked by dozens of Republican lawmakers. He pushed for a provision that allows businesses the right to ban firearms on their property.
“As I traveled all over the state to all 77 counties, I heard from Oklahomans all over that they wanted us to protect their right to bear arms,” Stitt said. “I’m excited to sign this.”
The bill was vetoed last year by GOP Gov. Mary Fallin, who cited opposition from the business community and law enforcement.
“We already have reasonable licensing and background checks,” said Drew Diamond, a 22-year law enforcement veteran and former police chief of Tulsa. “From a policing standpoint, it seems like we’re taking all that away and moving backward for no good reason. It seems senseless to me.”
Diamond joined about 200 volunteers with the gun safety group Moms Demand Action who met with legislators to urge them to oppose the bill. Groups of church leaders also opposed the bill and held a prayer vigil outside the governor’s office earlier this week.
“Usually, I am proud to call Oklahoma home. But today, I’m embarrassed for our state. I’m embarrassed that our elected leaders put politics before the safety of our families by passing permitless carry,” Christine Jackson, a volunteer leader with the Oklahoma chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
Before the measure was signed, a separate “trailer” bill was moving through the Legislature that would put additional restrictions on openly carrying weapons in places like the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Gathering Place in Tulsa, one of the largest parks in the nation. The park that operates as a private enterprise but was gifted to a public parks entity has blocked people carrying handguns from entering.
In the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday while the bill was being debated, officials from a gun museum in the northeast Oklahoma town of Claremore erected a display where visitors could fire an air rifle at targets. The winner was awarded a BB gun.
According to the National Rifle Association, at least 14 states have approved some version of permitless carry, most recently South Dakota, where it was the first bill signed by new Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
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