The crowd Wednesday night at the handgun license class at H&H Shooting Sports Complex was a curious mix.
A teacher. A delivery driver. A man who sells products made at an Oklahoma oil refinery.
One woman worked for a hospital. Another attendee described himself as a “risk manager.” There were couples, too, and a young man attending the class with his parents.
And then there was Dr. John Belardo, a well-known local eye surgeon.
“I recognize him from the billboards,” a fellow classmate said.
The 5:30 p.m. class, the second part of an eight-hour session required by state law, would focus on shooting and other hands-on training.
Oklahomans from all walks of life are rushing to get their handgun licenses these days. The rush, some say, is the result of a potent mix of factors, including a presidential election, mass shootings and renewed talk of tighter gun control laws.
In Okla homa, there are more than 140,000 residents who are licensed to carry firearms. Over the past four years, the number of licenses issued by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has exploded compared with previous years.
Meghan McCormick, spokeswoman for the Cleveland County sheriff's office, said comments made last week by President Barack Obama on the topic of guns lead to a record-setting day in Norman.
“The day the president announced his proposed changes, we had a record number of people, around 60 come in that day to submit their applications,” McCormick said, adding that a long line formed during the two hours the sheriff's office accepted applications that day.
Residents wanting to get a handgun license in Oklahoma must first complete a “firearms safety and familiarization” course like the 30 or so people did Wednesday night at H&H Shooting Sports Complex.
After that, OSBI protocol instructs them to go to their local sheriff's office to complete the application process.
McCormick said Obama's comments about possible new gun control laws, made Jan. 16, are the latest thing to scare gun owners.
“Every time something happens — the shooting in Colorado, the election, the shootings in Connecticut — we see people start to come in,” she said. “It seems like they're afraid they might not be able to get their license when stuff like this happens.”
Latonia McDaniel, who works at a local specialty hospital, said she was getting her handgun license for personal protection. The response is near universal when gun owners are getting their handgun licenses.
“I want to be able to protect myself, as a woman, and my kids,” McDaniel said. “Plus, I grew up around guns, and I know how to use them. It's the next step.”
Like McDaniel, many of those attending the class Wednesday evening were women.
“It's good to see so many women here tonight. … I think there are as many of us as there are men. It's our right, too,” said one woman, who did not want to be identified.
Students are required to load and fire 50 shots at a target that appeared to be roughly 15 feet away.
Licensees to be shielded
In Oklahoma, the identity of those licensed to carry handguns is protected by the OSBI.
Jessica Brown, the bureau's spokeswoman, said the only information made public about handgun licensees is their age, gender and the county they reside in.
Brown said names, dates of birth and other identifying data belonging to Oklahomans with handgun licenses are not considered open records.
In other states, that isn't always the case.
Shortly after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a newspaper in New York published an online, interactive map showing the addresses of gun owners in two counties.
The map, which was viewed more than 1.2 million times before it was taken down, was created using data gleaned from public records.
The New York newspaper's staff reportedly received death threats after the map was posted online.