McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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February 15, 2013

Okla. bill to allow some ex-felons to have guns

OKLAHOMA CITY — A plan to allow some convicted felons to have the right to own a firearm restored was derailed Wednesday in a House committee after numerous objections to what kind of criminal may be allowed to carry a gun.

Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, agreed to lay over his bill in the House Public Safety Committee after several members of the committee raised questions and suggested they would vote against it. By laying the bill over, it can still be amended or brought back before the committee for a vote.

The bill would allow individuals convicted of a nonviolent felony who have completed their sentence and probationary period to have their right to own a firearm restored, including their ability to apply for a handgun permit.

“Multiple young dads and moms have contacted me pleading with me to address this issue,” Russ said. “They can’t even take their young sons bird hunting.”

Russ said he’s learned of many people who have received felony convictions from crimes like writing bogus checks or larceny who will never be allowed to own any type of firearm without a full pardon for the governor, a process he said is difficult and rare.

“Oklahoma is one of the most notorious states in the nation for incarceration. You can’t hardly sneeze without getting a felony,” Russ said. “These are people who made a mistake that they took a felony plea on, and now they’re in a situation where they can’t grow up with their children and their family and enjoy hunting and wildlife activities that most people in my area enjoy.”

But Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, said she was surprised to learn that under Oklahoma law, there are dozens of serious crimes that are considered nonviolent offenses, including drug trafficking, child pornography, bombing and abuse of a vulnerable adult.

“These are serious offenses,” Osborn said. “I was horrified when I saw in our statutes that these were considered nonviolent offenders.”

Jimmy Bunn, Jr., chief legal counsel for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, testified that under current law, those convicted of a nonviolent felony can have the right to own a gun restored if they receive a pardon from the governor. But Russ said receiving a pardon from the governor was a “monumental” task and that pardons are rarely granted.

The bill also was opposed by the District Attorneys’ Council, a group that represents state prosecutors at the Capitol.

Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, encouraged Russ to consider narrowing the scope of his bill or perhaps adding a judicial review to ensure that the law wouldn’t end up “putting a gun in the hand of a drug trafficker.”

Russ said he hoped to redraft the bill to address some of the members’ concerns and bring it up in committee again next week.

Online: House Bill 1775: http://bit.ly/X5G4e4.

Sean Murphy can be reached at

www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy.

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