Local officers are inspired to speak out on the gun laws and proposed legislation saturating media attention.
Derek Melton, Pryor Police Department’s Assistant Chief, speaks his mind on the issue.
“Open carry, I believe, is constitutional but not tactical,” said Melton. “I’m for the second amendment right to carry arms, but in our crime ridden world I think open carry is not the best idea.”
“When you are openly carrying, criminals know you’re carrying and that makes you vulnerable to theft. In a shooting situation, like in the movie theater, the person openly carrying a firearm is going to be the first threat the shooter takes out,” said Melton.
Melton is referring to Senate Bill 1733 which allows Oklahomans with concealed handgun permits to carry the weapon either openly or concealed. Senate Bill 1733 was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May of 2012. Oklahoma is the 15th state to allow open carry. The bill limits the type of weapon which may be displayed. It allows derringers, revolvers and semi-automatic handguns. Pistols must have a barrel no larger than a .45 caliber and must be less than 16 inches long.
Melton said the Pryor Police Department has not had any issues with the open or concealed carry laws.
“We’ve not had one problem here in Pryor, but look at who is teaching these concealed carry classes here. It’s police officers,” said Melton.
In regard to legislation being discussed on a national level, Melton had a different opinion.
“While I can support open carry constitutionally, I am against gun control,” said Melton. “People get killed in car wrecks, and nobody is outlawing cars. Guns are not the problem, humanity is the problem. Weapons are inordinate objects, the problem is the person behind the weapon.”
He said people with criminal intent are going to gain access to firearms, whether they are made illegal or not.
“People that commit crimes with guns do not legally purchase them anyway. We are prohibiting the honest, law-abiding man with these restrictions, not the criminal,” said Melton.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting sparked national controversy over gun laws. Melton responded to the event as a law enforcement officer and a grandfather.
“I’ve wept over that situation and mourned that loss, but the issue is to be dealt with not as an emotional attack, but in a rational and logical way,” said Melton.
“I think what we are going to see happen national is that they will legislate high capacity magazines and try to ban assault weapons, at least in the beginning,” said Melton. “Only time will tell.
“I am in support of honest people with firearms,” said Melton. “If people think they are going to get southerners to give up their guns, they’ve got another thing coming.”
It is uncertain what gun legislation will bring, but it is expected to see a dramatic increase in both sales and concealed carry permits issued. According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Self Defense Act Licensing report, 24,018 new permits were approved in Oklahoma in 2011; 975 applications were denied that same year, with 748 of the denied because of “false or misleading statements on the application for a handgun license.”
Closer to home, 281 new licenses were issued that year in Mayes County. The average age of Oklahomans with concealed carry permits is 51. Numbers for 2012 have not been confirmed, but are expected to show a significant increase, especially in the later half of the year.
Officer James Blower of the Pryor Police Department is an instructor of a concealed carry course. He said he is one of several instructors in Mayes County. He has a course whenever there is enough interest. The course is $60 for most citizens, though military and certified armed security guards may secure waivers.
“The course itself is an eight-hour day, around six hours is classroom time and the rest is on the range. We discuss legal requirements, then weapon safety. We then take a weapon safety exam. If someone does not pass this exam they are finished with the course,” said Blower. “Then on the range, Oklahoma requires that you know how to operate the gun safely, deal with any malfunction, and load and make ready your gun. You shoot 50 rounds with the instructor present.”
Blower said the safety part of the course work is mostly common sense that any gun owner should know. He said shooting 50 rounds on a supervised course does not make a person a marksman.
“I talk a lot about civil and criminal liability and the legal aspects of carrying a gun, either openly or concealed,” said Blower.
In regards to openly carrying a firearm rather than concealing one, he believes it all comes down to safety.
“The people I know with concealed carry will still conceal. I don’t come across many people that are openly carrying in this area,” said Blower. “I think concealed carry is safer for the average person.
“In a criminal situation, like a robbery, the robber is going to see the innocent person with a firearm as a threat and will shoot them first.”
Blower believes that openly carrying a weapon gives people a false sense of security. He questions the ability of untrained civilians to be aware enough of their surroundings to be able to fight off someone attempting to disarm them.
“The license doesn’t make you a vigilante, super hero, or police officer. It is for safety,” said Blower.
On national gun laws in the media spotlight, Blower agrees with Melton that the weapon is not the problem.
“I give the example in my class that the gun sitting on the table is not dangerous, just like the ink pen sitting on table is not stupid. The problems come with operator error,” said Blower. “We need to look at other areas like prevention and education.”
Blower spoke about the difference the demographic makes. People in Oklahoma, he suggests, are more familiar with guns as many of them have grown up hunting. People in more urban areas, however, get their firearm education from Hollywood blockbusters.