Oklahoma governor faces decision on gun carry without permit

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is not saying whether she will sign legislation that would allow adults to carry handguns without a permit in spite of concern expressed by the deputy director of one of the state's top law enforcement agencies Thursday that it could erode public safety.

"The law really removes many of the protections that we've had," Rick Adams, deputy director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, told The Associated Press. "Public safety is obviously the biggest concern. It's a dangerous situation for the public. It's a dangerous situation for police officers."

The bill , similar to so-called "constitutional carry" legislation adopted in a dozen other states, authorizes people 21 and older and military personnel who are at least 18 to legally carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a state-issued license or permit.

The state currently requires a license to carry a handgun openly or concealed although firearms may be carried openly without a permit in certain circumstances, including while hunting or target practicing.

A background check would still be required before a person could purchase a firearm and handguns would remain prohibited in places where they are currently banned, including elementary schools, colleges, universities and government buildings. The bill also excludes anyone prohibited by state or federal law from owning a weapon as well as those convicted of assault and battery, domestic abuse, violating a protective order or drug crimes.

But Adams and OSBI Interim Director Bob Ricks said in a statement that the agency, which issues licenses to carry a concealed or unconcealed handgun under the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, is concerned about the impact the measure could have on public safety.

The bill eliminates the training requirement for carrying a firearm as well as an extensive background check process that includes mental health and court records, the statement says.

"We have a great system that's been in place," Adams told the AP. The agency's background check thoroughly vets applicants before they are licensed to carry a firearm, he said.

Eliminating state handgun licenses would also impact OSBI's budget, Adams said, reducing revenue by $4.7 million a year due to lost application fees and forcing the elimination of as many as 60 positions.

The legislation by state Sen. Nathan Dahm, a Republican candidate for Oklahoma's 1st Congressional District, received final passage late Wednesday when the Senate approved the bill 33-9. It was previously approved by the state House.

The measure now goes to Fallin, a Republican who has expressed support for Second Amendment rights but who has vetoed some gun rights legislation.

In 2014, Fallin vetoed a bill requiring state law enforcement authorities to sign off on applications for federally-regulated items such as silencers, short-barreled rifles and automatic weapons within 15 days. But the Legislature overrode her veto and the bill became law without her signature.

In 2015, the governor vetoed legislation that restricted businesses from banning guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas, a veto that remained in place.

In an email, Fallin's communications director, Michael McNutt, said the governor is withholding comment on the "constitutional carry" bill until she and members of her staff have a chance to review it.

Conservative supporters of the "constitutional carry" measure maintain that the Second Amendment guarantees a person's right to bear arms without restrictions, including handgun licenses. Similar laws are in place in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.