Legislation that would allow Oklahomans to display their handguns openly has some law enforcement officials on edge, but many people say the public may not see a big difference.
Oklahomans with a state-issued permit have been allowed to carry a concealed handgun since 1996, but if the so-called Open Carry legislation is approved it will be the first time since 1971 that permit holders could carry their weapon exposed.
Similar bills passed both the House and Senate this month and are working their way through the legislative process. Gov. Mary Fallin has said she supports the concept of allowing Oklahomans to openly carry guns.
The issue has a lot of law enforcement officials talking, said Norman McNickle, president of the Oklahoma Association of Police Chiefs.
While most support Second Amendment rights in general, some are wary people who openly carry their firearms in public might cause unnecessary distractions that may ultimately interfere with public safety, McNickle said.
“There is a universal concern that this will lead to more confrontations with our citizens,” he said. “How does the first arriving officers know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are? It makes their job exponentially harder.”
Twenty-nine states have no law that prohibits the open carrying of handguns. Of the states that do restrict the practice, 14 allow it as long as a person has a state-issued permit.
Oklahoma is one of six states that currently does not allow for the open carrying of firearms, but if the proposed legislation becomes law it would join the group of 14 that require permits. California banned the practice last year with the exception of its unincorporated areas.
In states where Open Carry is allowed, law enforcement officials said it can cause inconveniences for police officers and the gun holder, but that most people don't openly carry guns even though they are allowed to do so.
Sgt. Pete Simpson, a spokesman for the police department in Portland, Ore., said residents there are also allowed to carry a handgun openly, but that it's not something people tend to do.
“It can create 911 calls that maybe aren't necessary and take police resources to go check out somebody that is legally carrying,” he said. “As a police agency we can't ignore somebody calling saying there's someone with a gun. We can't assume that they're legal.”
If the open carry legislation is approved in Oklahoma, there would still be many places one could not bring a gun.
Government buildings, schools, and many businesses don't allow weapons on their property.
Most states that surround Oklahoma allow for Open Carry, with the exception of Arkansas and Texas. A similar bill approved by Oklahoma legislators in 2010 was vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry.
Proponents of the legislation say it's about asserting citizen rights and allowing Oklahomans to more actively defend themselves.
Seeing folks with their firearms displayed openly could cause a criminal to think twice about committing a violent crime, said Tim Gillespie, director of the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association.
“We live in a dangerous world,” he said. “Open up the newspaper on any given day and there's a report of car jackings or somebody coming into your home or whatever. Our membership wants to have the ability to defend themselves in case they're ever confronted with that situation.”
It's a belief shared by Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, the principle author of the House legislation.
Concerns of the indistinguishable silhouette walking bowlegged down the street, hands at his holster and ready to draw are fantasies, he said.
“That's what they do in ‘Gunsmoke,' and ‘Have Gun — Will Travel' and even shows that are newer than that,” he said. “It's not going to be like that. It's going to be more like you're going to look over and someone is putting gasoline in his tank, and he happens to have a pistol in a holster on his belt as he's doing it.”
Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, who voted against the legislation, said people who openly carry guns may be putting themselves at risk when they enter a place with dangerous people.
“There may be a bad guy in there and that gives them an opportunity to take that weapon from you,” he said.
McNickle said trained police officers are killed on the job each year by their own weapon.
“You put a weapon on your hip, exposed, whether you're a police officer or you're a legally armed citizen, it makes you a target if something goes down, if something goes wrong,” he said.
Jim Maisano, deputy chief for the Norman Police Department, said with updated training he believes law enforcement agencies will be able to handle Open Carry. It's how the law worked when he started at the department 28 years ago, he said, and other than possibly making some citizens nervous it should not significantly impact police operations.
Criminals won't be the type to carry their handguns openly anyhow, he said.
“These are not people that usually go out and get their concealed carry license and follow the legislation,” he said. “They acquire a gun by some other means and commit the crime that they're going to do with that weapon.”