THURSDAY is when Oklahomans who are properly licensed to do so may begin carrying handguns in the open. Don't take that to mean you'll now feel like an extra on the old set of “Gunsmoke.”
The open-carry law, one of dozens of new laws that take effect this day, gives those who are licensed under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act the option to conceal their weapon or carry it openly. Our guess is that most concealed-carriers will prefer to keep their guns out of sight.
In addition, a number of restrictions are tied to the new law, Senate Bill 1733, which sailed through the Legislature this year. Businesses can continue prohibiting firearms on their premises. Carrying firearms won't be allowed on land owned or leased by the city, state or federal government, in schools or on college campuses, or at arenas during sports events.
Opponents of open carry said they were concerned it could lead to a “Wild West” atmosphere, but those arguments were always overstated. That certainly hasn't happened in the other 24 states that have open-carry laws.
Open carry will get more attention, but another new law could wind up having far more significance if it comes to fruition. The Oklahoma Justice Reinvestment Initiative, pushed by outgoing House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is designed to reduce the state prison population and cut corrections costs, with some of the savings then reinvested in the system.
The law hopes to reduce recidivism by requiring that all felons be supervised for nine months after leaving prison — presently, only about half are. It also changes the rules for when some nonviolent probation violators are returned to prison. Those men and women would get help instead of immediately being locked up again. And the law establishes a grant program through the attorney general's office to help local law enforcement agencies fight crime.
In steering his bill through the Legislature, Steele pointed to successes in other states where similar legislation was approved. It continues to be a tough sell in some quarters, however. Unless all the facets of the criminal justice system buy in — from prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges to the Department of Corrections and sheriffs and mental health agencies — it won't be fully implemented and therefore won't be fully effective.
One new law that should be effective in reducing angst among teenagers and their parents — not to mention workers at the Department of Public Safety — is House Bill 2367, which allows instructors at driver's education schools to administer the driving exam.
Through the years some opponents to this idea worried that driver's ed schools, which charge several hundred dollars for their services, would naturally lean toward giving their students passing grades behind the wheel. But they don't stand to gain from licensing boys and girls who really aren't prepared to drive.
The new law made sense because of the loss of state examiners and test sites in recent years, which in turn reduced the number of driving tests that could be administered each day. That spawned a tortuous system in which teens and their parents arrived at state exam sites in the middle of the night in hopes of being one of the handful who were tested each day. Stories of youngsters going through that three, four or five times weren't unusual.
Open carry may or may not have much of an effect on Oklahomans. HB 2367 absolutely will.