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Foster Parents, Gun Rights Group Sue Oklahoma DHS Over Weapons Policy

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A pair of foster parents and the nonprofit Second Amendment Foundation are suing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services over an agency rule about firearm possession.

DHS policy prevents Stephen and Krista Pursley from having firearms in their vehicles or while foster or adopted children are present. The Moore residents say the rule violates the second and 14th amendments to the U.S. constitution, as well as the state’s founding document, according to The Oklahoman’s Kyle Schwab:

"The Plaintiffs only seek to be treated the same as other law-abiding Oklahoma residents," the lawsuit states. "This mandate for foster parents is not just restrictive, it's ridiculous," said Alan M. Gottlieb, the foundation's founder and executive vice president. "Why should a foster parent be stripped of his or her right to self-defense, or ... ability to defend their foster child simply to appease some bureaucrat's anti-gun philosophy? ... How would it look for Oklahoma if foster children came to some harm because (DHS) regulations disarmed their foster parents? "We're asking for an injunction against this requirement because it puts foster families at serious risk while denying parents their constitutional rights."

Since 2014, DHS’ “Weapons Safety Agreement” form requires prospective foster and adoptive parents to keep their weapons locked in storage at home when they’re not in use. It also prohibits the carrying of a firearm in the child’s presence “unless the employment of foster/adoptive applicant or parent requires when on duty.,” according to a statement from the Second Amendment Foundation.

“This mandate for foster parents is not just restrictive, it’s ridiculous,” founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb said in a statement. “Why should a foster parent be stripped of his or her right to self-defense, or their ability to defend their foster child, simply to appease some bureaucrat’s anti-gun philosophy?”

DHS communications director Sheree Powell told Schwab the agency’s policy does not prohibit gun ownership:

"It does, however, require reasonable safety measures to protect the children in DHS care, many of whom come from traumatic and tragic circumstances. "Agency leadership has, in fact, been diligently working in recent weeks to review and, if necessary, revise its foster care weapons policy in order to address the interests of foster parents who are appropriately permitted to possess firearms. Any revisions to agency policy, however, will always make the safety of children its first and foremost priority." Powell said Friday that DHS has reviewed the lawsuit but has not been served.

The Pursleys have fostered more than 34 children in Oklahoma, and Stephen Pursley has had a concealed carry permit for 15 years. The family and the foundation are being represented by Illinois attorney David Sigale.

“It is completely unconstitutional, and unfair that those persons who are providing a better life and environment for children, through the State’s DHS foster care and adoption process, would have to give up the fundamental rights of self-defense and defense of family in order to do so,” Sigale said in a statement. “If one is in compliance with federal law and the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, the DHS is not allowed to discriminate against those who foster and adopt through the State programs. The DHS’s policy that severely restricts the firearm possession of these good people must be struck down.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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