A new state law that allows nearly everyone 21 and older to carry a firearm without training is scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, causing Oklahoma business owners to re-examine their gun policies.
“It’s difficult to weigh your own ideals against what’s best for your business,” said Brady Sexton, who owns Scratch Kitchen & Cocktails. “When you treat your business as its own entity, you really have to do what’s best for it.”
If the law is implemented, Oklahoma would be one of at least 16 states that allow permitless carry. But thanks in part to The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, business owners like Sexton can prohibit firearms on their property as long as they post a sign to notify the public.
Sexton reluctantly allows Scratch customers to carry concealed guns, but he draws the line at open carry. A sign on Scratch’s front door reads, “Thank you for not smoking or carrying firearms openly.”
The Chamber lobbied against permitless carry in the past. But Vice President of Government Relations Mark VanLandingham said Gov. Kevin Stitt’s election and the new composition of the legislature led chamber officials to believe the legislation’s passage was inevitable. So the organization shifted its focus to ensuring protections for property and business owners.
“We’re dealing with a situation where two very important rights sort of collide with each other, and one is the Second Amendment, but the other is property rights,” VanLandingham said. “Our position is that property rights don’t take a back seat to anything, including the Second Amendment, and fortunately the legislature agreed with us.”
Proponents of permitless carry say it will make Oklahoma safer and protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights. But the law could be delayed or declared unconstitutional.
Democratic state Rep. Jason Lowe and others filed a lawsuit earlier this month saying permitless carry violates Oklahoma’s single subject rule, which states that a piece of legislation can’t address more than one main issue. Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews will decide on Oct. 30 whether to issue an injunction.
Despite the possible delay, opponents of permitless carry are preparing for the law to take effect as scheduled.
The gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action is giving businesses “carry of firearms prohibited” window stickers. Jennifer Birch, the Oklahoma chapter’s deputy leader, has been distributing them around the metro area and beyond. She expects more than 100 stickers have been placed so far.
“We’re trying to help out in any way that we can,” Birch said.
According to the permitless carry legislation, business owners can call law enforcement on people who violate their establishment’s gun policy. But owners must first verbally inform gun carriers of the infraction, which Birch says could be risky.
“Some people feel like that’s having to confront someone with a gun,” she said.
When it comes to permitless carry’s effect on public safety, causal data on both sides is lacking. But some states that have enacted these measures experienced a rise in firearm violence. As a father of school-age children, Sexton said guns cross his mind often.
“If anything, five years ago, I would have thought that our gun laws would have gotten a lot scricter,” he said.
Sexton says business owners could lose customers either way. People could dislike no-firearm policies or feel uncomfortable seeing guns in an establishment.
“It’s the world we live in that you have to decide if you want someone to have something in your business that could kill someone in a moment’s notice,” he said. “So it’s a very strange, almost surreal, thing to have to contemplate.”