OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses in Oklahoma was approved by the state House Thursday despite opponents who said putting more guns on campus makes no sense following recent massacres at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.
"This has to be the craziest thing I have ever seen," said Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow, one of several lawmakers who said the measure is opposed by college administrators and most Oklahomans but is supported by the National Rifle Association.
"How silly can we be to represent 10 percent of our constituency, the fringe out there," McCarter said. "Represent your constituency. Don't be afraid of the National Rifle Association."
The measure by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, authorizes active-duty military and National Guard and reserve personnel, honorably discharged veterans and others with firearms training certified by the Council on Law Enforcement Education who hold a state concealed weapons license to carry guns on college and university campuses.
The legislation, approved 65-36, is more narrow than Murphey's original proposal, which would have allowed anyone at least 21 years old with concealed handgun carrying rights to carry weapons on campus. That version was similar to a Utah law.
House members also voted 91-9 for a measure by Rep. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, that lowers from 21 to 18 the age of active-duty military, National Guard and reserve personnel as well as veterans who can be licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
Murphey said his bill is a "commonsense step" to expand Oklahoma's concealed weapons law to combat campus violence.
"The concealed carry law is about 12 years old. It's worked out very well," Murphey said. He said more than 60,000 Oklahomans are licensed to carry concealed weapons and there has been no widespread gun violence in the state, which opponents had warned of.
Supporters argued that the measure would make college campuses safer by putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens.
Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, said someone with a concealed weapon might be the only person in a classroom who can protect himself and others from an attacking gunman.
"When seconds matter the police are just minutes away," said Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs.
"Our kids are not safe," said Rep. Shane Jett, R-Tecumseh. Last year, a lone gunman killed 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. Last month, five students were killed by a gunman at a campus lecture hall at Northern Illinois.
"If the campuses are not providing the right protection, then they have the right to protect themselves," Jett said.
But opponents said the measure could have the opposite effect.
"Are we going to make students more safe or less safe with more guns on campus?" said Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, whose district includes the University of Oklahoma.
Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, said she believes in the 2nd Amendment right to carry firearms.
"I'm also a firm believer in safety," Coody said. She said most voters she has talked to are opposed to the proposal.
"They're afraid for their children who are students on the campus," Coody said.
A task force that studied campus security in Oklahoma considered a recommendation to ban weapons from campuses except those used by campus security and military science classes and in the vehicles of people with concealed weapons permits. But the recommendation did not make it into the final report.
Murphey said he had not polled college campus presidents to determine how they felt about the measure.
Murphey's bill would require people authorized to carry a concealed handgun to provide written notice to the university or college president prior to bringing a gun on campus. It would not limit a university's ability to restrict concealed weapons from access-controlled areas where people are subject to security checks.
Murphey's bill, House Bill 2513, now goes to the Senate for action.