- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma residents age 21 and up could openly carry guns without a license, training or background checks under legislation that a House committee gave preliminary approval to on Wednesday.

The House Conference Committee on Public Safety passed the bill, of which different versions have already been approved in both chambers, prompting the formation of the committees to resolve disagreements. Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield, said he needs the signatures of seven members of House or Senate conference committees before further action can be taken on the measure before the legislative session is scheduled to end May 27.

The bill, dubbed a “constitutional-carry” measure, would allow those without a felony conviction to openly carry firearms without a license, training or background checks. Those who wish to conceal a weapon would still be required to obtain a license.

The measure is similar to open-carry laws in effect in 30 other states, including Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, according to OpenCarry.org, a pro-gun organization which supports the right to openly carry holstered handguns. Oklahoma is currently among 15 states that require a permit to openly carry handguns, the website said.

An amendment approved by committee members Wednesday would require those who open carry to notify law enforcement officers they encounter and authorizes law enforcement to conduct a background check to determine if the person is eligible to openly carry a gun, Coody said.

The measure is supported by the National Rifle Association, which has asked supporters to contact lawmakers to express their support for what NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen described as “critical self-defense bills.”

“Oklahomans know the government cannot always be there to protect them, and like Americans all across the country, they are increasingly taking that responsibility into their own hands,” Mortensen said in an email.

But business, government and education groups - including the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder - have expressed concern. Almost three dozen groups sent a joint letter last month to Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, urging him to stop the measure and a second resolution calling for a public vote to broaden gun rights.

Longtime University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator, has said the measure could jeopardize existing gun bans at private businesses, public colleges and universities and at events hosted at public parks or fairgrounds.

“The Legislature has carefully made decisions in the past about public safety and gun safety,” Boren said in an email. “These reasonable and constitutional regulations should not be put at risk.”

Coody said the concerns are “overblown” and that the bill does not authorize the open carry of guns in places where they are already prohibited.

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Online:

House Bill 3098: http://bit.ly/1RaxiDI

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