The Oklahoma lawmaker who wrote the first draft of the open carry bill that was signed into law this year said he does not believe the state's gun culture makes it more or less susceptible to gun violence like that which occurred Friday in Connecticut.
Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, said instead that the state's policies toward the sharing of mental health records for background checks may be what put Oklahomans at risk.
“It does appear at this time that the shooter was mentally ill to some extent,” he told The Oklahoman on Saturday. “But before we start filing our bills we should wait and get the final results.”
Police in Connecticut say a lone gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at an elementary school on Friday before turning the gun on himself.
Martin's open carry legislation, which allows permitted Oklahomans to carry their firearms in public, with some restrictions, was supported heavily by his colleagues at the state Capitol — including Gov. Mary Fallin — last spring.
The new law went into effect Nov. 1.
“Our gun laws in Oklahoma don't make our children any more or less safe than they were in Connecticut,” Martin said. “You've got to remember, our laws … do come after background checks and training, and those have been very successful from the standpoint that we have not had an incident from a person who is lawfully carrying a firearm.”
But Oklahoma's gun policies have come under fire both locally and nationally from critics who say not enough has been done to keep firearms out of the hands of those with mental health problems.
Delynn Fudge, federal grants division director for the Oklahoma District Attorney's Council, said in August that state lawmakers have been reluctant to adopt legislation that would bring the state into compliance with federal mental health reporting recommendations.
Federal and state law prohibits the sale of firearms to people who have been adjudicated by a court as mentally incompetent, but Oklahoma consistently lags behind other states in supplying mental health records to the national database used for these types of background checks, according to a 2011 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national gun control advocacy group.
Fudge said state privacy laws and the lack of an integrated court management system keep most of these records from being shared with the agencies that conduct background checks.
That may change in 2013, Martin said Saturday.
With the backing of the District Attorney's Council and the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, he said he's developing a bill now that would permit the sharing of these records for federal background checks.
“The language has not been fully drafted and so I don't want to go into detail, but yes, it is legislation that would make it easier for those making a decision about who should be able to buy a gun,” he said.