The conversation on firearms and gun control measures has long been at the forefront of American politics, and has resurfaced after a recent string of shootings around the country.
Although 2020 went by with fewer mass shooting incidents, around 43,000 Americans were killed through gun violence. Of those deaths, around 19,000 were categorized as homicide, murder, unintentional, or defensive gun use, according to Gun Violence Archive – more than any in the six years prior.
Those types of incidents are not as common for deputies with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, though.
“We have very few actual violence calls where somebody has been shot or threatened with a firearm – maybe one every two months, sometimes more, sometimes less,” said Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault. “Most of the firearms calls we respond [to] are reported by people who hear gunshots near their homes, and the shooting turns out to be somebody just shooting.”
One recent mass shooting struck close to home for Cherokee County residents, when a gunman killed one man and five children at a home in Muskogee. The man – who was charged with six counts of first-degree murder, one count of shooting with intent to kill, and one count of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction – reportedly lived in the same home as the victims.
Laura Kuester, director of Help In Crisis, said there is a correlation between mass shootings and domestic violence.
“The motivation of men who commit acts of mass violence is often complex, but the things the majority of them have in common are not,” she said. “Most have a history of hating women, assaulting wives and girlfriends; most have strangled their significant other, and oftentimes share their misogynistic views online.”
Kuester said the gunman who killed 49 people in 2016 at an Orlando nightclub alleged beat his wife, and the shooter from the Sutherland Springs church killings in Texas had been convicted of domestic violence.
Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for the number of women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center. A woman is five times more likely to be killed when her partner owns a gun. Kuester said that while federal law prohibits people convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from buying or owning guns, there are many loopholes, and women in relationships who are not married to, do not live with, or have children with their abusers do not get protection.
There is no federal law providing a mechanism for removing guns from abusers, although some states have enacted such procedures.
“Given the apparent connections between domestic violence and mass shootings, keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers could be the key to stopping some of the country's most fatal events,” said Kuester. “That being said, as a member of the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, we have staffed several cases where there was never any link to where the perpetrator got the gun. If they want a gun bad enough, they will find a way to get one.”
While Congress has debated legislation to further restrict firearm ownership or bolster background checks, the Oklahoma Legislature has passed bills to relax gun laws. One law being considered at the state Capitol would allow school personnel to carry firearms on campus.
Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, said such measures involving gun regulation, or deregulation, should require further public input.
“There are many reasons people want to keep their weapons, but also want to keep them in safe hands and to protect public spaces. There won’t be a politically viable single solution, but meeting with the public, individuals who care about and research these issues, and being transparent and responsive will go a long way toward furthering the public interest," he said.
Although loud in some areas of the country, calls for more firearms restrictions are muffled in Oklahoma. According to a study tracking long-term gun ownership by the Rand Corp., more than 50 percent of adults in Oklahoma have at least one gun in their homes.
State lawmakers are also eyeing a bill that would declare Oklahoma a Second Amendment Sanctuary State. The measure, which passed the Senate and is up for a vote in the House, was designed to prevent the federal government from confiscating firearms, gun accessories, or ammunition from law-abiding Oklahomans.
The Daily Press asked readers in a Facebook Saturday Forum for their thoughts on gun violence, what precautions are needed, and what gun violence can be attributed to.
David Watts said he’s OK with current rules in place, but argues they are still unconstitutional.
“Nothing should be done without a constitutional convention, which, of course, wouldn’t have enough support to happen,” he said. “Like it or not, the government is restrained from imposing restrictions on firearms when you read the simple text of the Constitution.”
Pam Moore said she would like to see gun owners be required to purchase insurance.
“Then the insurance companies get to decide risk and return by investigating the applicant,” she said. “Insurance could be discounted if the applicant attends firearm safety courses and uses child proof locks and/or safes. The insurance lobby will go wild for this potential money maker.”
Billy Hunter said gun control might work, but calling for it is easier than thinking about what makes the U.S. so prone to mass shootings and other violence.
“The United States is an extremely unequal place and the stress of just living here drives people to the edge,” said Hunter. “No guarantee of health care, threadbare social programs, very few secure, good paying and dignified jobs, and the list goes on. Combine that with the fact that we have an extremely militaristic society that largely has no appreciation of or desire for culture or knowledge. A late capitalist hellscape is fertile ground for violence.”
Brad Wagnon said gun restrictions are unconstitutional, but believes more funding should be allocated to mental health and those at higher risk of mental illness, such as the homeless and veterans populations.
“I’m not saying that will prevent all gun violence, but it would certainly help,” he said. “Also, children need to be educated on firearm safety. The unknown becomes a curiosity and can cause accidents.”