OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite nationwide pressure to overhaul gun regulations, many Oklahomans remain passionate defenders of their right to own firearms and ardent supporters of the Second Amendment.
Well before statehood, generations of Oklahomans grew up with firearms.
State Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said he remembers the parking lot at his Oklahoma City high school in 1985.
“Pretty much every pickup in the school parking lot had a gun rack with a gun in the rack,” West said. “We’re used to being around them. We do a lot of hunting. We do a lot of different things with them.”
More than 35 years later, West, who owns both handguns and rifles, said Oklahomans still believe the Second Amendment is about the right to self-defense, and tell him firearms are a normal way of life.
In a 2020 report, the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit public policy think tank, estimated that Oklahoma had the 11th highest household firearm ownership rate among states between 1980 and 2016. The group also estimated that more than half of Oklahoma adults lived in a home with a firearm between 2007 and 2016 — well above the national average of 32%.
A 2022 Everytown for Gun Safety analysis found Oklahoma has the seventh-highest rate of household firearm ownership.
“The passion really is not about the gun, the passion is about liberty,” said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
“You threaten the Second Amendment, and the rest of the Constitution will just be worthless,” Spencer said. “The Second Amendment is ultimately what defends our liberty against everything from a perpetrator trying to break into your home to a tyrannical government trying to take away our rights.”
Katie Kahmann, of Edmond, said it’s ridiculous to argue that some gun restrictions infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights. She was advocating for what are called “commonsense gun laws” at a recent rally outside the state Capitol. That includes background checks and red-flag laws, for example.
“It’s 2022, and we have different weapons, more powerful weapons, weapons that can shoot a crap ton of people in under a minute,” Kahmann said. “They didn’t have that back then (when the Second Amendment was written.) The laws just need to change.”
Still, she said she’s not opposed to Oklahomans owning an AR-15 if they know how to use it, are trained and have completed a class to show that they’re a responsible gun owner.
Mary Kaplan, a member of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, though, questioned why an 18-year-old in Oklahoma can even purchase an AR-15. She said she often hears the argument that Oklahomans own firearms to protect themselves, and that the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to arm a good person with one. She called that a ridiculous argument.
State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, who has proposed a slate of gun reforms following several mass shootings, including one in Tulsa, said he believes law-abiding Oklahomans should continue to be able to own guns, including high-powered rifles. He said Oklahoma’s love of firearms has its roots in a tradition of hunting and the fact that the state has one of the highest ratios of members of the military. A 24/7 Wall St. analysis in 2019 found that Oklahoma had the 10th highest percentage of former military members, at 9.1%.
“So we’ve got a lot of folks who use it for sport, for their profession, who are gun lovers,” Nichols said. “I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Nichols said he’s long felt that the best way to protect the right to own guns is to make sure that lawmakers prevent certain types of weapons from getting in the hands of certain people. He also said legislators should restrict places where people can carry.
“It’s a lot different carrying it out on your family ranch or whatever to kill wild hogs. I get why you might want a powerful rifle to do that,” Nichols said, but added that Oklahomans don’t need to be carrying such powerful weapons in other more populated places.
He said proposed Democratic gun reform measures do not seek to ban any type of weapon, but focus on making sure people who shouldn’t have them aren’t able to get their hands on them.
“Then everybody who wants to use it for sport or for whatever reason would have to take a responsible path to do it,” Nichols said.
But he acknowledged that any effort to reform Oklahoma’s gun laws faces strong resistance from a “really powerful gun lobby.”
West, the lawmaker, said any effort to reform the state’s gun laws would be “a pretty heavy lift” with his constituents, who continue to believe that proposed reforms are merely a first step.
“It’s always put in that context of this isn’t as far as we would like to go or this isn’t the destination, but this is part of the trip,” West said. “And it’s that destination that really gets people scared I think.”