Oklahoma is believed to be the only state in the U.S. that has a law banning red-flag laws, which in other states allow for temporary firearm removal from individuals believed to be at risk of harming themselves or others.
A Lee Enterprises review reveals that lawmakers in 31 states have not passed red-flag laws even as most of those states received federal funding through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
The policy, which exists in 19 states and the District of Columbia, is one that gun-safety advocates are pushing once again across the U.S. in the aftermath of the late-March Nashville school shooting, which killed six people.
The policy has bipartisan appeal nationwide, with some Republicans in favor of it. But Oklahoma lawmakers in 2020 passed an anti-red flag law and have expanded access to firearms over recent years.
At the time of the Oklahoma bill’s passage, state Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, said red-flag laws amount to “stripping American citizens of their rights to due process under the law.”
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And state Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said that “whether it is passing constitutional carry or opposing these stealthy attempts at denying our due process, I’m honored to be continually leading the charge to defend the rights of Oklahomans and am pleased to see us be the first in the nation to pass this type of law.”
Gun-safety experts have said they are working across the U.S. to prevent mass shootings, suicides and domestic violence. Oklahoma had the 12th highest firearm death rate among U.S. states in 2020 with a death rate of 20.7 per 100,000 people, according to federal data. But conservatives in Oklahoma have pushed back on the efforts.
And all members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation were opposed to the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which contains funding for states to create and implement red-flag laws. However, states without red-flag laws can use the money authorized in the bill for other gun violence-reduction programs.
At the time of its passage, U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he voted against the bill because it “does not protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
“It incentivizes states to adopt red flag laws, which often treat individuals as guilty until proven innocent,” Lankford said last year.
However, after the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed, Oklahoma applied for and was awarded about $3.5 million in funding.
The state says it will form an advisory board to determine funding priorities, which could include specialized drug, mental health and veterans court programs, including those that specifically accept clients with firearms violations.
The state also proposes to spend the money on behavioral health detection “for those at risk to themselves or others; and/or funding for law enforcement agencies to safely secure, store, track and return relinquished guns.”
“The main purpose of the proposed projects is to save lives by reducing the likelihood of gun violence,” according to the federal application, submitted by the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council.
Hayleigh Colombo is a member of the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism Team.