Over 125 church leaders, business owners and community members gathered Thursday for a seminar on law changes and safety concerns following the passage of Constitutional Carry last year.
The seminar, hosted by the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office at Inola Christian Church, drew church leaders and business owners from as far away as Joplin.
With three speakers from the Sheriff’s office, State Representative Tom Gann, R-Inola, and Second Amendment advocate Don Spencer presenting information; many topics were covered in an hour and a half.
The seminar included an overview of what the current gun laws entail; how the new law impacts business owners, churches and public places; how to post and enforce restrictions within an establishment; how to create a safety and security team for an establishment; and the associated legal and insurance responsibilities.
NEW LAW AND IMPACT
Constitutional Carry went into effect in Oklahoma Nov. 1, 2019.
“It allows anyone who is at least 21 years of age, or at least 18 years old and is a member of the military or an honorably discharged veteran, to legally own a firearm and to openly or conceal carry without a permit,” said Major Coy Jenkins, with the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office.
The law explicitly authorizes open carry of both loaded and unloaded shotguns, rifles and handguns under the following circumstances:
When hunting animals or fowls
During competition in, or practicing in, a safety or hunter safety class
Target shooting, skeet, trap, or other recognized sporting events
During participation in, or in preparation for, a military function or police function
During practice for, or performance for, entertainment purposes
For lawful self-defense, self-protection, or any other legitimate purpose in or on property that is owned, leased, rented or otherwise legally controlled by the person.
However, in addition to private property where prohibition of open carry or all weapons in clearly marked, there are several places where firearms still are not allowed.
“You can’t go to sporting events, you can’t go on school property, you can have your gun in the car, but you can’t get out with it,” said Sgt. Bo Williams, with the sheriff’s office.
Williams said the Sheriff’s department may still respond to calls if someone is walking down the street with an unlicensed AR-15 strapped to their back. But they will treat the situation more like a welfare check than a potential crime.
Speaking personally, Williams said, “I do not like open carry, because you get everyone’s attention. Whether it’s good or it’s bad, you get everybody’s attention.”
However, he added, “Your fear doesn’t trump their Constitutional rights. It just doesn’t.”
State Rep. Gann said the new law is all about freedom.
“As everybody knows, the Second Amendment is the only Amendment that keeps every other Amendment in place,” Gann said. “We swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and you violate your oath if you do anything less than that.”
Those who still want to get a permit, in order travel with guns to states that require licensure, may still do so through the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation Self Defense Act test.
The app CCW allows users to check if the state to which they are travelling requires licensure.
Regardless, Jenkins said, it is important for all gun owners to remember and practice the rules of responsible gun ownership, including keeping your weapon properly secured at all times, acquiring the appropriate training, informing law enforcement that you are carrying a gun at the beginning of each interaction, and separating yourself from all firearms in the event of shooting, so officers don’t misidentify you as the gunman.
POSTING AND ENFORCING RESTRICTIONS
As private entities, churches and businesses can decide for themselves whether to allow open carry of all guns, allow concealed carry only, prohibit all guns, or some option in between.
Signage stating the policy is recommended, although not required, to be clearly posted near the entrance of the building or property.
As a privately owned entity in Oklahoma, the entity has the authority to evict anyone from their property for any reason, Spencer said.
Williams said that once an entity sets a policy, and anyone disobeys that policy, the entity is welcome and encouraged to get law enforcement involved.
“We can do an escort for you,” Williams said. “Contact your local law enforcement and ask them to do a removal.”
“If they get combative in any way, we can do a trespass and have them not come back,” Williams said. “If they violate that, there are other options to go from there.”
CREATING A SECURITY TEAM
Following the Sutherland Spring church shooting in 2017, church security has been top of mind for many.
Some church have responded by creating church security teams, consisting of armed and unarmed individuals.
Where Williams attends church, “we call it a Church Emergency Response Team. We have a doctor, we have a nurse, we have some gun wielding guys who are very capable, and it’s more of an emergency response to weather, to health, to any issues we have to deal with.”
Williams said the first step for any organization is to be observant, close knit, and willing to be in each others business a little bit, to be watchful for signs of mental health issues or domestic violence, and de-escalate potential issues long before they ever get out of hand.
“As church leaders, business leaders, whatever, we need to know what’s going on in our family,” Williams said. “We need to be there as the loving, caring Christians we are to help them.”
Next, choose a team that has a cool-headed, common sense approach to problem solving, that will de-escalate tense situations.
If you need to escort someone off the premises, do not touch them, as physical touch can send people into a fighting mode.
Williams said the best technique is to designate someone to talk through the issue calmly while someone else who is pre-designated to do so calls the police.
“The last thing you ever want to do is draw a firearm,” Williams said. “If the incident resulted in you drawing a firearm, you’ve missed a lot of pre-attack indicators that you should have picked up on.”
Williams recommended that the security teams study the threshold for the use of lethal force as well, and remember, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
However, if you are forced to draw a gun in self-defense, Oklahoma is a castle doctrine state, with a stand your ground statute, meaning anyone who uses a gun in self-defense has immunity from criminal and civil law.
The law applies at a person’s residence, business, or place of worship.
For people or organizations that would like more detailed information, the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office offers site security and active shooter training for civilians and organizations.