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Loophole Allows Handgun License Without In-Person Training

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch

A loophole in Oklahoma law allows individuals to obtain a valid handgun license without ever firing a practice shot or picking up a gun.

Scores of Oklahomans have avoided the state's requirement to take live firearm training with a licensed instructor in order to obtain a license to carry a concealed or visible handgun. The applicants instead apply for a license in a state such as Virginia that requires the applicant only to take an online quiz and pass a background check, which Oklahoma also requires. Oklahoma recognizes licenses granted in other states.

The loophole has sparked online coupons advertising for obtaining a “non-resident handgun license.” The applicant for a Virginia license watches a short video, takes a 20-question, true-false and multiple choice quiz, and turns in background check information. Virginia officials say more than 150 Oklahomans have obtained a nonresident license from the state.

According to one website that offers the class, 99 percent of those who take the quiz pass it the first time.

An Oklahoma legislator has introduced a bill that would close the loophole. House Bill 1391 by Rep. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, would require Oklahoma residents to have Oklahoma-issued handgun licenses and keeps the requirement that applicants demonstrate proficiency with a handgun under the supervision of a licensed firearm instructor before receiving their license.

However, the proposed law would allow the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training to develop an online class for handgun license applicants.

Murdock said he introduced the bill because in many rural areas it can be difficult to attend handgun license classes. Only two – one in spring and one in autumn – are offered in his area, said Murdock, who is a handgun license holder.

Murdock said he is alarmed by the current law's not requiring an applicant to fire a gun.

“It's kind of scary actually,” Murdock said. “It's like driving your car and getting your driver's license. If you just took the written test, they don't know if you know how to really drive that thing or not.”

Oklahoma's firearm training requires that the applicant undergo about eight hours worth of instruction and show proficiency with their weapon. States as Virginia and Nevada are more lax, but Oklahoma accepts their licenses.

“Oklahoma recognizes the handgun license for any state,” said Felicia Jackson, Self Defense Act licensing unit manager at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. “We don't differentiate between resident and nonresident.”

Public officials have often cited Oklahoma's required firearms training as a way to ensure the public's safety and ensure the license holder is a responsible gun owner, while also expanding where and how people can carry their weapon.

In 2012, when the state passed an Open Carry law, which requires someone carrying a firearm openly to have a valid handgun license, Gov. Mary Fallin said the measure “sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of its citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property. It does so in a responsible way, by requiring those citizens who choose to openly carry a handgun to undergo both firearms training and a background check.”

Several bills filed this legislative session would further expand where and how handguns can be carried: License holders could bypass security checkpoints and carry a gun into the State Capitol, carry a handgun at a public university or college or store a gun in vehicles in state prison parking lots.

Several websites offer online training courses for nonresident licenses.

“Why are so many Oklahoma residents choosing to get a Virginia Permit?” asks one site offering the course. “The Oklahoma permit requires in-person training classes that can be long, boring, inconvenient and expensive. Not everybody has time to sit through these classes. Then the remainder of the process is long, tedious, time consuming and expensive as well.”

Sites such as Groupon offer discounts for the online courses, making them as low as $25 per person.

Will Andrews, a licensed firearm instructor who manages the concealed carry classes at H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City, said going through in-person training is important, because students will be taught specifically what Oklahoma law says a gun owner can and cannot do with a firearm.

“There are things in the law, what the law actually says, that surprises someone every time we do the class,” Andrews said.

“Generally, people are shocked because the law is much more restrictive than they had originally envisioned,” Andrews said.

And the state law requiring that a license applicant be proficient is important because of obvious safety reasons, Andrews said, though additional shooting practice is encouraged outside the class for students to hone their skills.

“If someone needed to use a gun in the real world to protect themselves legitimately, everyone on the immediate area will benefit from their ability to hit their intended target and not the rest of us,” Andrews said. “There's a real safety issue, and ultimately for the student, a liability issue, in being able to hit well.”

Mike Boring, district attorney for Beaver, Cimarron, Harper, and Texas counties, brought the issue to Murdock's attention.

“I want people to be able to legally carry their firearms where they can legally carry them,” Boring said. “But we have had cases where people mistakenly think they can carry their firearm about anywhere. Obviously, they cannot do that in Oklahoma. That's an important part of this instruction and training.”

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content a range of public-policy issues facing the state.

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