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Armed and ready
10 years with the Oklahoma Self Defense Act

by Chris Pryor

In the 10 years Oklahoma citizens have been allowed to carry weapons concealed, crime has fallen, gun owners and advocates say.

Muskogee residents who carry concealed weapons, and who live in an area with a higher than average crime rate, say that at the moment of a crime, only two people are at the scene - the criminal and the victim - and victims should have the right to defend themselves.

"If you have an extreme problem, you can solve it yourself," said J.B. Satterfield, who is a member of the Muskogee Gun Club and possesses a concealed carry license.

The state Legislature passed the Oklahoma Self Defense Act in 1994, which became effective in January 1995, and concealed carry license holders agree that the law has been effective at suppressing crimes against individuals in Oklahoma. Other states are beginning to adopt concealed carry laws of their own to help combat violent crime.

According to data from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, 17,637 concealed carry licenses were approved in 2004, 319 of which were granted to residents of Muskogee County.

Accounting for population differences, the number of new licenses in the county is average compared to other, larger counties.

Charles Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Rifle Association, said about half a million Oklahomans - or about one-seventh of the state population - hold licenses to carry concealed weapons.

The OSBI's most recent data shows that violent crime in Oklahoma has fallen by 18 percent since the act was passed, from 21,748 reported in 1995 to 17,776 reported in 2003.

Smith and Ashley Varner, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said crime against individuals has fallen in the 10 years that the concealed carry law has been in effect.

Varner said in states where the NRA has pushed concealed carry statutes, violent crime fell in every instance.

"The states as a whole have seen crimes against persons - robbery, rape, burglary, assault - have decreased because criminals no longer know who has a firearm on them and who doesn't," Varner said.

Violent crime had been on the rise eight years when lawmakers decided to act in 1994 to write the concealed carry statute, according to Smith and OSBI data.

Law enforcement officials, though hesitant to attribute the decline in violent crime to the concealed carry law, support the concealed carry statute.

"I'm for it," said Warner Police Chief Terry Thompson. "I have no problem with good, decent law-abiding citizens having the right to carry a weapon."

Andy Blizzard, assistant chief of police in Checotah, said many criminals may be thinking twice about striking because they can't tell who's armed and who's not, but he wasn't ready to say whether the concealed carry law has had a direct impact on violent crime.

Yet Blizzard said Washington, D.C., which has one of the top-staffed police forces in the country and the strictest laws against gun ownership, also has one of the highest rates of violent crime.

Thirty-eight states have concealed carry laws of some sort. Missouri, which implemented a concealed carry law in January, joins other states like Florida that are now strengthening statutes that permit citizens to carry weapons.

Originally published June 24, 2005
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