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The final days in the push to repeal permitless carry in Oklahoma

Former state Rep. Karen Gaddis and Wes Robinson share a petition drive table inside Boston Avenue Methodist Church.

Cydney Baron

With only days left, public safety advocates across the Tulsa metro were mobilized. Volunteers were on foot, setting up tables at hot spots across town to encourage voters to sign the petition to support State Question 803 before time ran out.

The last-ditch effort was a referendum on House Bill 2597, vetoed by former Gov. Mary Fallin and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt, which would allow most people over the age of 21 to openly carry a firearm in Oklahoma without any training, licensure or background check. The referendum would pause the controversial new measure, set to go into effect Nov. 1, and put it to a vote of the people on the 2020 ballot.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Jason Lowe and Moms Demand Action OK, the petition effort kicked into gear after more than 30 people were killed over a single weekend in high-profile mass shootings in Texas and Ohio—leaving Oklahoma activists with little more than two weeks to collect the nearly 60,000 signatures needed by Aug. 29.

Saturday, in the final push for signatures, former state Rep. Karen Gaddis and concerned citizen Wes Robinson shared a petition drive table inside Boston Avenue Methodist Church. As they waited for signees, Gaddis explained their efforts.

“What we’re concerned about is repealing that part of the law that allows anybody without training or licensure or anything to openly carry a gun,” Gaddis said.

HB 2597 was the first bill Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law, and one he stands by, saying it “reflects the will of the people.” But SQ 803 supporters say putting the issue to a vote is the fairest way to determine whether or not Oklahomans truly want permitless carry in their state.  

Gaddis, who voted against HB 2597 during her time in the legislature, got involved in the repeal effort because she’s worried what the law will do to the state. She said response to the petition from the voting public had been positive, but opportunities for education had come up.

“There are people who think this will prevent them from carrying their guns,” she said. “The answer to that is, ‘No, it won’t.’ … If you require licensure for your car, which is a deadly instrument in itself, why wouldn’t you require licensure or registration or training to carry a firearm?”

Seated next to her at the folding table, Wes Robinson agreed.

“I think we can all agree that we all know somebody in our life [who] does not need to be carrying a gun at all times,” he said. “We had a lady just this morning [who] said, ‘Well, it’s my right to carry a gun.’ Well, it’s your right but … do you not know anybody that shouldn’t be packing a gun around? I do. I’ve got a safe full of guns at home, but I don’t think I need to strap them on and carry them into the Starbucks.”

The duo agreed: “It’s just common sense.”

Failure to repeal the existing law would have a far-reaching effect, touching law enforcement, tourism, industry and more, they said.

“Here’s my fear: If we don’t repeal this, is that not going to make other people decide, ‘Well, wait a minute. If everybody’s carrying a gun out here now, do I need to start carrying one for my own protection?’ I think if we don’t repeal this, we’re going to add to the problem, not take away from it,” Robinson said.

“I think [it] is going to kill our tourism industry,” Gaddis added. “How many industries are going to want to move to Oklahoma if they think it’s the Wild West?”

Foot traffic through the lobby had slowed, but Gaddis said she was optimistic about the petition.

“I think it will probably get on the ballot. I think we’ll get enough signatures,” Gaddis said, eyeing the clipboard in front of her. “How it plays out in November of next year, I don’t know. The gun lobby will certainly come out in full force … I guess we’ll see.”

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The following Thursday, Oklahoma organizer Aaron Wilder was among the volunteers notarizing and delivering boxes full of signatures in support of SQ 803 at the State Attorney General’s Office during the final moments before the 5 p.m. deadline. 

“There were volunteers on the outside, collecting last-minute signatures from people walking in and out of the building, and people just driving up off the street to hand over fistfuls of petitions they’d gathered themselves,” he said.

Hours earlier, Rep. Jason Lowe said petition numbers “were really close” to the nearly 60,000 needed to trigger a referendum. Ballots won’t be counted in an official capacity until the Oklahoma Supreme Court weighs in on a challenge filed by Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A).    

Regardless of the outcome, Wilder applauds the energy of work of fellow volunteers like Gaddis and Robinson. “This was a completely volunteer-run thing, and the other side just can’t do that,” he said. “They rely on big gun manufacturer checks and other money from industry. They don’t have the kind of people power we do.” 

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