Have you ever wondered how bills travel through the legislative process? I know many of us remember the “I’m just a bill” song, but here is a real-life example of one of my least favorite bills (and now new laws) in Oklahoma!
What is it?
Every year in Oklahoma, thousands of bills are filed with the intent of becoming new statutes (laws) or amending previous statutes like the one below. Senate Bill 978 was filed to amend an existing statute that prohibited transport of certain guns on boats. It also amended the language to permit the use of firearms for self-defense on boats. An example of the language is below, with some guidelines for reading.
In red: Language that is stricken through is to remove it from the current law.
In blue: Language that is added.
Life-cycle of a bill:
With the thousands of bills filed each year, many bills do not even make it to a first committee hearing, let alone a floor agenda, and then survive a repeat process on the other side. Some make it through and lie dormant on the Governor’s desk. With this in mind, the fast-paced advancement of this truly harmful bill is remarkable.
Through every stage of the process and deadlines, at each step hundreds of bills become dormant. However, SB 978 made it through without a scratch.
This is a very fast progression for a bill, but in the gun loving state of Oklahoma, anything supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) is bound to have a quick turnaround. This is clearly not a bill on which we have a neutral stance, so let’s get into the why.
Why Do I Hate this Bill so Much:
When the bill was first introduced by its author, Sen. Green [Republican, District 28- Wellston], it was quickly mentioned that the bill is supported by the NRA and “everyone received a letter about it.” Reportedly a constituent request out of Prague, Oklahoma, the bill is also supported by the Oklahoma Rifle Association.
The author first emphasized that this bill is something we need for self-defense and to protect our families. He stated that the amendatory language of the new statute was to address how “outdated our current constitutional carry” was.
Oklahoma is a land-locked state with a fair number of recreational boaters, but not an overwhelming number. There are around 200,000 registered boats (which does not mean operators) in the State of Oklahoma, which makes up for under 2% nationwide.
Oklahoma is not a place where the threat of piracy and violence via maritime vessels occurs. When it comes to nationwide boating accidents, firearms are never mentioned in leading causes of death.
Boat Safety – Or Lack Thereof:
Every year the Coast Guard compiles a report on boating statistics and incidents. Where cause of death is known, 81% of fatal boating accidents are attributed to drowning. An astonishing 83% of those victims were not wearing a life jacket. Many individuals who use boats for hunting are in the largest groups subject to drowning due to the size of the vessel used and movement on the vessel.
Furthermore, when it comes to fatal boating accidents, alcohol use is also the leading known contributing factor. The subject of alcohol on boats was repeatedly brought up by Sen. Brooks in committee hearings. While it is illegal to operate a vessel under the influence of alcohol, it is not illegal for passengers (unlike in a car, where open containers of alcoholic beverages are not permitted).
The author argued that this would not give anyone a pass on liability, and it would be the responsibility of the boat operator to prevent such issues. So, in addition to being responsible for water and boat safety, the operator should now be concerned about gun safety as well as the intoxication level of passengers.
When it comes to state-wide gun safety, we are already in a permitless carry state with abysmal gun safety. The author exacerbates this issue by permitting firearms on maritime vessels (which can also include personal watercraft such as jet skis). Furthermore, SB 968 removes gun-specific language and uses the word “firearm” to be all-encompassing.
Oklahoma is already a leading state in the nation for gun-violence. Including firearms of any variety on watercraft, where there is already a myriad of safety concerns that can arise and change at any time, is a recipe for disaster. Water sports can be dangerous, and deadly, even without the addition of guns.
Just this week, a shooting occurred at Rose State College where a Marine Corps reservist was shot dead. Per 100,000 people, firearm mortality rate in Oklahoma is 21.2, placing us just outside of the Top 10 in the nation. (As of 2021, we are at number 12). Gun death numbers for some of the most populated states like California and New York are 9 and 5.4 in 100,000.
In 2021, more Americans died of gun-related injuries than any other year on record. This accounts for over 48,000 people, with 8 in 10 murders being committed with a firearm. There are endless statistics about gun violence in our state and country, but numbers are not the same as the human factor of life lost: families missing members, teachers missing students, and an empty place at the table. Even those who survive shootings are left scarred by traumatic near-death experiences.
Operator inattention is one of the primary contributing factors in boating accidents. Putting additional liabilities such as firearm safety, which is abysmal in this state, will only increase fatalities on the water.
People cannot even protect themselves by wearing a life jacket; they certainly do not need a gun too.
In just over a week, Oklahoma has seen deaths from natural disasters and school shootings. We are also witnessing first-hand the continued demise of public education for our children and access to healthcare decisions amongst families.
Several good bills were authored this year. There were also many tear-filled debates and nail-biting votes to preserve and promote quality of life for all Oklahomans. However, for many issues, it was not enough. While many fought with every ounce of effort to just make it to one part of the legislative process, bills like this made it all the way to statute with little debate or pushback.
Many of these lawmakers run unopposed in every election cycle. Some of their decisions are clearly made by wealthy, powerful outside groups that do not have Oklahomans’ best interest at heart.
It is hard and often heart-wrenching, but it is crucial to keep track of what some of our elected officials do with our votes. They are not voting for the greater good, but for the greatest buyer. We need more people to advocate and run for office who understand what Oklahomans need and what will keep people safe.
Even one innocent life lost is too many, whether it be from a boating accident or from gun violence. To combine the two is only to bring many more opportunities for pain and heartbreak for Oklahoma’s families.
2021 Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
Stats of the States – Firearm Mortality (cdc.gov)
Pew Research Center:
What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. | Pew Research Center