January 17, 2017

S.E. RUCKMAN: Open Carry a fact for Oklahoma, but not Indian Country

At midnight of the first day of the eleventh month, a different day dawned in Oklahoma. A new law went into effect that will undoubtedly change a few things around here. The “Open Carry” statute allows gun holders (who are trained and licensed) to publicly carry their guns. Make no mistake it signals a return to a time when this kind of gun-toting dress was de rigueur.

Advocates of this law cite that openly carrying (and swaggering) with the weight of one’s gun is the hip and trendy thing to do among states. One news source cites that 14 other states have similar laws (all located in the west and even Connecticut). At the same time, Oklahoma’s gubernatorial office puts it at 22 states with like statutes. This must be a reminder that if all of our friends are willing to jump off a cliff, we here in Oklahoma will start looking for a suitable launching point.

The law brings me no comfort. I have traveled to some of the states where similar Open Carry season exists and I don’t recall seeing a firearm brandished yet.  As the brainchild of Oklahoma state senator Anthony Sykes (a Republican attorney from Newcastle), the successful Senate Bill 1733 prevailed with the assertion that responsible gun-owning behavior in Oklahoma thrives. Incredibly, the sight of a gun brandished by qualified gun toters may even be a deterrent to the irresponsible ones.

Somewhere in all this is bound to be room for contradiction. Let’s talk tribal here. Like a tree falling in the forest, does it makes a sound if no one is there to hear it? Likewise, does a state law have substance in Indian Country where it has no legal heft? The answer here is even murkier when it is a non-Indian on federally sanctioned tribal lands carrying said firearms that he might use against an Indian.

One tribal law enforcement officer said that they have been told that the new law cannot apply blindly in Oklahoma mainly due to jurisdictional complications.  Despite a long ago era where our warriors were elegant Open Carriers, the issues at stake here move us past ordering a cool gun holster so we can imitate our forefathers.

Open any door to an Oklahoma tribal casino and look for sign. I mean the one marked by a tiny gun with a line drawn through it, a symbolism that one can interpret as a ban against all guns.  Gun enthusiasts will have to suppress themselves or seek their gambling fix elsewhere.

In a place with 38 federally recognized tribes, crisscrossing jurisdictions is a legal reality and not an imaginary state (no pun intended).  Open Carry is an issue that tribes will likely have to address individually since each tribal jurisdiction is a separate territory in the eyes of the federal government.  And make no mistake, tribes guard their sovereignty.

Absurdly, the law also restricts gun carrying on property where privately owned businesses have deemed it unfit. This also lends to the argument that Oklahoma’s new open carry law borders on being superfluous, kind of like putting a tail on a snake.  But if a gun owner wants to brandish their gun, the choice now exists.

The irony of this situation must be pointed out here. Over a century after Oklahoma came into being in 1907, the mindset has evolved to resurrect a questionable mentality that was once accepted without question. Indeed, urbane citizens in Oklahoma wonder what kind of message the new law sends to the rest of the country. I offer outsiders will view Oklahoma as a throwback to the Wild West.  Only in these parts, it’s the law.

In November the legal reality of Oklahoma’s Open Carry became a fact.  But one clear point is that the newly liberated gun carriers will not be able to carry their weapons in Indian Country, unless each tribe allows it in their respective jurisdiction.

S.E. Ruckman is a citizen of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes in Anadarko, Okla. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s School of Journalism and has written for the Tulsa World and is currently a special contributor to the Native American Times. She is a freelance writer who is based in Oklahoma.