While a relatively small but growing number of Muslims in the United States own firearms, members of the Muslim community are disproportionately impacted by gun crime. In particular, gun crime most often impacts men and minorities. The recent rise in hate crime and harassment against Muslims in the United States has led gun crime to have a substantial impact on the Muslim community in Oklahoma.
Gun crime’s direct impact toward Muslims has the potential to worsen because of a new “constitutional carry” law that will go into effect this year. This law will make it easier than ever for Oklahomans to obtain and carry firearms by allowing residents to openly carry firearms without a background check. In addition, firearms training will no longer be required under constitutional carry, which increases the likelihood that certain gun owners will use their weapons in an unsafe manner. This law, combined with hate groups in the United States (including 4 in Oklahoma) could very well lead to more violent incidents motivated by an anti-Muslim narrative.
The Link Between Islamophobia and Gun Crime
Across the United States, incidents stemming from anti-Muslim bias increased by 17 percent between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, there were 2,599 incidents motivated by anti-Muslim bias in the United States. This includes 300 hate crimes, which involves a criminal offense, such as assault. In 2016, there were 255 hate crimes against Muslims in the United States.
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s Office of Criminal Justice, there was just one anti-Muslim hate crime in Oklahoma in 2017. It is important to note that the state of Oklahoma defines a hate crime as a criminal offense committed against a person or property, which is motivated by the offender’s bias against race, religion, disability, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation. This definition is quite strict, which means that is likely that there may have been criminal offenses in Oklahoma that were not classified as hate crimes.
Oklahoma is not alone in excluding many crimes from the definition of a hate crime because it does not fit into a precise category. For example, if a defendant says, “I am shooting you because you are Muslim”, then the state of Oklahoma will classify the incident as a hate crime. Another example includes when a Kansas man shot and killed an Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and wounded his friend who was also from India.
The man believed that the two Indian men were of Middle Eastern descent and he shouted a slur at them before he left the bar, went home and got his gun. Although the shooter was clearly targeting the men because of their race or religion — and admitted as much in a plea deal with the federal government — Kansas prosecutors did not charge him with a hate crime.
In any given year, over 10,300 hate crimes in the United States involve a gun, which averages to about 29 hate crimes per day. In Oklahoma, a first-time hate crime offense is a misdemeanor. This means that even if a person is convicted of a hate crime, he or she won’t lose their right to possess a firearm.
How Oklahoma’s New Gun Law Will Affect the Muslim Community
One of the most significant changes in Oklahoma gun law came in February, when Governor Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 2597 into law. This bill will allow what is known as “constitutional carry” in the state. It will go into effect on November 1, 2019.
Under this constitutional carry law, any Oklahoman aged 21 or older will be permitted to carry a firearm without a permit or background check. Veterans, active duty and reserve military who are 18 or older will also be allowed to carry a gun without a permit. Under House Bill 2597, felons, anyone with a domestic violence conviction or anyone determined to have a mental illness is prohibited from carrying a firearm.
Constitutional carry does not mean that Oklahomans can take guns anywhere. Property owners can still prohibit firearms on their premises. In addition, a higher education institution can determine their own policy concerning firearms on their campus.
This law will affect Muslims throughout Oklahoma. CAIR Oklahoma (CAIR-OK) has already documented a significant number of harassment and hate crime incidents in the state and it is unlikely that this law will prevent hate crimes involving firearms in Oklahoma. In 2018, 13% of all reported incidents to CAIR-OK involved harassment or hate crimes. This includes bullying, verbal and physical attacks, damage to property and violence.
When Oklahomans are permitted to own and carry a gun without a license after November 1, anti-Muslim harassment is bound to rise. An increased availability of guns and the relatively limited restrictions on the purchase of guns will make it easier for more people to have access to weapons that could be used to intimidate and threaten Muslims living in Oklahoma.