Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals Answers Federal Question on Oklahoma Gun Law
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ("OCCA") answered a certified question this Monday submitted by Judge Holmes of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. WHIRLPOOL CORP. v. HENRY, 2005 OK CR 7 . In the federal lawsuit, national employers are challenging a state gun law.
House Bill 2122, which amended the Oklahoma Firearms Act and the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act became effective November 1, 2004. The new sections of law provided:
No person, property owner, tenant, employer, or business entity shall be permitted to establish any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting any person, except a convicted felon, from transporting and storing firearms in a locked vehicle on any property set aside for any vehicle.
The Legislature passed the amendment in response to the firings of 12 workers at a Weyerhaeuser Co. paper mill in southeast Oklahoma in 2002. The timber company had extended its longtime ban on guns in the workplace to the parking lot, and dogs found guns in the 12 employees' vehicles.
Tulsa-based Williams Cos., Houston-based ConocoPhillips and other businesses filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tulsa last year challenging the statute.
The question before the OCCA was "Whether 21 O.S.Supp.2004, § 1289.7a or 21 O.S.Supp.2004, § 1290.22(B) (relating to the prohibition against establishing any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting any person, except a convicted felon, from transporting and storing firearms in a locked vehicle on any property set aside for any vehicle) is a criminal statute, the violation of which may subject a violator to criminal misdemeanor sanctions or punishment under the laws of the State of Oklahoma?" WHIRLPOOL CORP. v. HENRY, 2005 OK CR 7, ¶1
The question was certified to help guide the federal court in deciding whether the state law is unconstitutional.
The OCCA held that because the plain language of the statute forbids an act, it fits squarely within the statutory definition of crime and public offense. See 21 O.S. § 3. Likewise the court noted that both acts are found within the Oklahoma Penal Code. As such, the court held that 21 O.S. § 1289.7a and 21 O.S. § 1290.22(B) "are both criminal statutes, the violation of which may subject a violator to criminal misdemeanor sanctions or punishment under the laws of the State of Oklahoma."
Assistant Attorney General Guy Hurst, said that the decision would probably make the constitutional issues argued by the State of Oklahoma harder to support. The state had argued the gun law is civil in nature and asked that the lawsuit be thrown out of federal court. The state claimed it is protected from civil litigation by sovereign immunity and the U.S. Constitution's 11th Amendment.