Another new gun law passed the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt Tuesday.
Red flag laws allow law enforcement or family members to ask a state court to order temporary removal of firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Senate Bill 1081, also known as the Anti-Red Flag Act, prohibits the state or any city, county or political subdivision from enacting red flags laws. It is considered to be the first of its kind in the country.
Similar measures, which vary from state to state, have been passed across the country in places like Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, California and more. State Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, authored Oklahoma's.
"As other states have expanded infringements on the Second Amendment and other rights protected in our U.S. Constitution through their 'red flag' laws, I'm thankful we have a governor who has committed to protecting and defending our rights by signing Senate Bill 1081, the Anti-Red Flag Act, into law," said Dahm. "Whether it is passing constitutional carry or opposing these stealthy attempts at denying our due process, I'm honored to be continually leading the charge to defend the rights of Oklahomans and am pleased to see us be the first in the nation to pass this type of law."
Proponents of the bill argue that it protects a person's right to due process, while gun control advocates believe it caters to gun "extremists." Kay Malan, a volunteer with the Oklahoma chapter of Moms Demand Action, said the risk of gun violence - including gun-related domestic violence and gun suicide - has persisted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But rather than take steps to meet these risks, lawmakers quietly passed a policy intended to score points with extremists opposed to life-saving extreme risk laws," said Malan.
The Senate voted in favor of the legislation in March, 34-9. After much of the legislative session was interrupted due to the pandemic, the House eventually voted in favor of it, 77-14, on May 15. State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, who voted in favor of the anti-red flag bill, said there was too much "subjectivity" with regard to red flag laws.
"That's the concern," said Pemberton. "When you open that can of worms, it depends on how liberal your judges are, and in some areas across the country that have those already, we're seeing a lot of confiscation of weapons and a lot of times those aren't given back, or there's nearly no reason or due process regarding that. When you leave discretion up to judges and bureaucrats, sometimes it just depends who you get in front of and whether they protect your rights or whether they don't."
The U.S. has long been touted as a country that values its freedom and rights over safety. Cherokee County Libertarian Party Chair Shannon Grimes said it comes down to which is more important, freedom or safety.
"This anti-red flag law addresses concerns about protecting rights and due process," he said. "Do Americans still believe in due process? Due process is the mechanics we have in place to protect rights while still allowing for limitations at appropriate times. Are good intentions enough reason to violate someone's rights? Good intentions or not, should people still get due process? Do the ends justify the means? We have federal civil rights laws, through the 14th Amendment, to keep states from violating rights. Is it inappropriate for the state to limit local jurisdictions from violating people's rights? If freedom and rights are not as important than safety, then the ends justify the means. The Bill of Rights and the governing limitations intended by the Constitution are effectively voided. We will then be ruled by tyrannical good intentions, or things simply sold as good intentions. I hope we as a society value freedom over safety. Otherwise, we will end up with less of both."
The fact that the Legislature passed the bill, and it has become law, is not surprising to most Oklahomans. Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, said he wasn't surprised. While he said he's "not one of the anti-gun liberals," he also said he doesn't feel informed enough to speak on the legislation.
Some people have argued red flag laws could prevent violence and save lives. On the flip side, people have also said red flag laws could put people in danger. Justin Kennedy, Cherokee County Young Republicans chair, cited an incident in Maryland in 2018, when a man was killed by police who were attempting to enforce the state's red flag law.
"It was one of those things where they were beating on a man's door early in the morning, he came to the door with his firearm, and they shot him dead," said Kennedy. "So it's already taken lives in the United States. It's not something that's been proved to save lives, but it's already taken lives. It's probably one of the best pieces of legislation the governor has signed so far."
State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, was on the House floor when the Daily Press reached out for comment. He could not be reached by deadline.