Open carry arrived in Oklahoma without a hitch.
Spokesmen with police departments in Oklahoma City, Norman and Edmond said their dispatchers did not receive a single call from citizens concerned about firearms on Thursday, the first day for the law allowing people with a state-issued permit to openly carry certain handguns in public.
“It feels like freedom to us; it feels very liberating,” said Bryan Hull, who runs a towing service in downtown Oklahoma City and co-founded the Oklahoma Open Carry Association.
Hull and about two dozen other men and women celebrated the arrival of loosened gun restrictions by bringing their holstered weapons to breakfast shortly after midnight at Beverly's Pancake House on Northwest Expressway.
But the days of holding placards or shouting chants are over; instead, the open carry supporters ate and talked quietly, their pistols visible but tucked away.
Jon Muckleroy, an aircraft mechanic from Oklahoma City who dined on eggs, sausage and biscuits and gravy with a Smith & Wesson M&P45 on his belt, said the point of the gathering at Beverly's was a celebration of rights.
“I think a right not exercised is a right lost, and so open carry is more symbolic to me,” Muckleroy said.
Joe Wood, of Norman, also an aircraft mechanic but at Tinker Air Force Base, carried a Taurus PT145 and ate a hamburger.
“I just feel more secure and safe,” he said.
Open carry was signed into law in May by Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican. Her Democratic predecessor, Gov. Brad Henry, vetoed a similar bill in 2010, citing law enforcement concerns.
Restrictions remain in place at government buildings, bars and professional sporting events, among others, but in general the law is meant to be more permissive than restrictive. Businesses and private property owners can continue to prohibit firearms, carried openly or concealed, but citizens maintain the right to store them in their vehicles on private and government property.
More than 141,000 active concealed carry permits in Oklahoma are now simply “carry permits.”
Hull said residents can expect to see people carrying guns on sidewalks, in grocery stores and at restaurants like Beverly's — at least initially.
“We worked really hard to get this legislation passed through the legislature, our group and the 2nd Amendment Association,” Hull said. “We started planning for today the day after the governor signed the legislation.”
Open carry is about self protection and about demonstrating that gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens, he said.
“But it also provides a deterrent factor against criminals,” he said, noting the gun strapped to his hip once prevented a robbery at his office, where he regularly carries it openly.
“When that happened, I decided I was going to get politically active and get this something everybody can do in public,” he said.
But opponents say they fear more guns will lead to more violence. Though the law requires a background check against a federal database before a carry permit is approved, Oklahoma is one of 15 states that had submitted less than five mental health records to be included in the database as of 2011.
“It can be very unnerving,” said Darla Koone, of Oklahoma City, who sat several booths down from the gun group at Beverly's on Thursday. “The law doesn't really keep guns out of the hands of people with problems.”
Across the table, her friend Sarah Musick, also of Oklahoma City, disagreed.
“As long as checks are in place and the system's actually working, and as long as they're using them appropriately, I do feel safer,” Musick said.
Business owners must decide
Some business owners in Oklahoma have said they will bar their customers from carrying guns openly inside, but others have said they don't have a problem with it.
Others — like Bruce Harroz, owner of Crest Foods — said they will make a decision after they see how their customers respond to the sight of visible guns inside.
Harroz said Crest backed off its no-guns policy several months ago after his voice mail and email were inundated with messages from gun rights advocates who threatened to boycott. Now he's hearing from the anti-gun crowd, particularly women with small children who want to shop without worry of violence.
“We're looking toward no weapons allowed, but we haven't pulled the trigger on it yet,” Harroz said. “You can't please everybody any way you go, and we've got both kinds of customers shopping with us.”
Even the owner of Beverly's said she is not quite sure how she feels about guns in the restaurant.
Renee Masoudy said Hull and other organizers of Thursday's open carry event are regular customers at Beverly's. But a stranger with a handgun might not settle so easy with her cooks and wait staff.
“What it is that scares me is Fridays, Saturdays, the bar crowd — people come sometimes drunk,” Masoudy said. “We've been through a lot of things, and I don't know if for the sake of my employees' safety that I want to allow it.”