Several Oklahoma sheriffs are upset after they say they were told to take off their guns or leave the state Capitol.
But a state Senate official says the sheriffs were only questioned briefly before being allowed back into the Senate gallery, still wearing their service weapons.
Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West was a part of a group of Oklahoma Sheriffs Association members who visited the Capitol on Tuesday. After being recognized in the House Chamber, the group went to the Senate Chamber and sat in the gallery, West said.
While the group was in the gallery, a Senate sergeant at arms asked the sheriffs to take off their guns or leave the building, West said. Several members of the group chose to leave, he said. Others stayed.
“I personally think it was disrespectful to the sheriffs,” West said. “I thought it was handled poorly.”
Law enforcement officers are allowed to carry firearms into the Capitol. But Senate spokeswoman Malia Bennett said Oklahoma Senate rules don’t allow guns or other weapons to be carried onto the Senate floor or gallery. That rule may be waived if Senate staff are notified in advance, she said.
After noticing the sheriffs were carrying guns, Senate staffers asked them to step into the hall outside the gallery to speak with the Senate chief of staff, Bennett said. Once the chief of staff found out who the group was and why they were in the building, staffers allowed the sheriffs back into the gallery, still wearing their sidearms, Bennett said.
After the sheriffs returned to the gallery, Sen. Don Barrington, R-Lawton, recognized the group from the Senate floor.
Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert said he was among the sheriffs who left the Capitol after being asked about his gun. When a sergeant at arms approached the group, he thought it was a joke, Colbert said.
Colbert, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, had worked in the Capitol before, and couldn’t remember ever having been asked not to carry a weapon, he said.
“I just think it’s a black eye for them,” Colbert said. “You would think they had more important things to worry about.”