When firearms are left in the hands of those who mean to do harm, lives can change in the blink of an eye, as evidenced by the recent mass shootings in Atlanta, Georgia; Boulder, Colorado; and even Muskogee, Oklahoma.
The recent spate of shootings across the country has again increased demands for stricter gun control measures. Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed two measures recently that would expand requirements for background checks, they're unlikely to pass the Senate. However, it appears many Oklahomans don't believe increased restrictions are the answer, anyway.
In Oklahoma, state law generally prevents knowingly transferring a firearm to convicted felons; people have have been adjudicated delinquent; those who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or people under adjudication of mental incompetency or have otherwise been found mentally unfit by a court.
Compared to other states, Oklahoma has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, and many of its residents are armed.
Law enforcement officers don't seem to have an issue with their constituents carrying, either. Both Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault and Tahlequah Police Department Chief Nate King believe legally-armed citizens are an asset in reducing violent crimes. So laws to further restrict gun ownership won't make their lives easier, they said.
"Increased restriction on gun ownerships will absolutely not help law enforcement, and people who think they will are being extremely naive," said Chennault. "People who mean to do other harm with a gun don't care about restrictions; they don't care about gun laws. If they care about following gun laws, they would also care enough to not want to do harm to other people."
Mass shootings are attributed to a variety of issues - whether it be educational issues, mental illnesses, racism, or political polarization. The causes of such incidents are typically confounded with opinions from political pundits and everyday citizens.
Dee Page, owner of Recoil Arms in Tahlequah, favors measures that help take guns "out of the bad guys' hands," but she doesn't think more gun control per se is the answer. She thinks the mental health system should be addressed first, because there are too many hoops for those with disabilities to jump through to get the help they need.
"There are issues that need to be addressed before firearms are allowed," she said. "If they're a problem to themselves and others, then absolutely not. But there are some mental illnesses that are not that far out; they just need help."
In Oklahoma, to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, a background check is required. Prospective gun owners also must be 21 and show proof of residency. While background checks can prevent the wrong person from getting a firearm, they can't stop all transactions from occurring.
Page said people who know they're not allowed to have guns probably wouldn't try to go through a background check, anyway.
"I don't think background checks do a whole lot of good," she said. "All it does is check to see if you're a felon or have certain misdemeanors. So if you're a felon, you don't get a background check to proceed with that purchase. They go out to the flea markets to pick up a gun, or they steal it."
Mass shootings in schools are among the biggest concerns. While many people would prefer to see more school resources officers in place to protect students, state legislators are considering measures to allow teachers and school personnel to carry firearms on campus. Most teachers do not want to carry, and many oppose the move.
Nevertheless, it's a measure that's received support from State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, a former educator. He said the best way to protect people is to allow them to protect themselves. He added that laws such as that would be more effective than those restricting gun ownership.
"Felons don't follow the laws," he said. "Whatever laws you put on the book, they're going to be broken. There's no way to write enough laws to change things that are going to happen, like mass shootings."
Keri Thornton contributed to this story.
This is the first in a two-part series on gun violence. The next part will focus on conflicting opinions regarding gun restrictions and gun violence measures.