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Newspaper: Oklahoma gun deaths rose as firearms access grew

June 26, 2022 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gun deaths in Oklahoma have increased since a “permitless carry” law allowing people over the age of 21 to carry a gun without a permit or training went into effect in 2019, according to a newspaper’s review of data.

The Oklahoman analyzed state medical examiner data and found that Oklahoma has recorded some of its deadliest months in history since the law took effect.

In the decade before “permitless carry,” only 10 months had 70 or more firearm deaths. From November 2019 until January, a 15-month span, 10 months had more than 70 gun-related deaths, the newspaper reported. That included 95 deaths in June 2020, the deadliest month in the 12 years of data examined.

The average number of gun deaths per month increased nearly 20% compared with the 10 years before the law took effect, a period in which the population grew just over 6%, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

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The newspaper reported Sunday that it’s hard to determine if the permitless carry law directly contributed to a rise in gun violence. At least some of the increase occurred even as homicides rose nationally in the U.S. in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Oklahoma lawmakers have increased access to firearms over the past decade, firearm-caused suicides, accidents and homicides in the state have increased, The Oklahoman reported.

The debate over gun control measures and efforts to expand gun rights comes following recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and in Tulsa.

When Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the permitless carry bill into law, he said it would expand the rights of Oklahoma residents while also making the state safer.

“There shouldn’t be any uptick in violence,” he said.

Kate Vesper, a spokesperson for Stitt, said the governor would continue to fight “to protect Oklahomans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

In recent weeks, Vesper said, “Stitt has held school safety meetings ... to examine what policies, laws, and procedures are already in place and which of those the state can and should better enforce, as well as examining any additional steps the state may need to take to keep our kids and schools safe.”

Since 2010, more than 8,600 Oklahomans have been killed by gun violence.

In 2010, Oklahoma’s gun-caused death rate was 14.3 per 100,000 residents, based on data from the state medical examiner and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. In 2020, the gun death rate was 21.2, one of the highest in the nation.

“The narrative of saying we need more guns is only creating a situation where more people are dying from guns,” said Joshua Harris-Till, an Oklahoma City-based gun control advocate who lost his sister to gun violence nine years ago.

But Republican leaders in Oklahoma have not shown an interest in any gun control measures.

“We are serious about public safety. We are also serious about protecting the Second Amendment,” Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told reporters this month.