In the wake of the mass shooting on the Saint Francis Hospital campus, Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin has made it clear that his job is not to make the laws regulating firearms — it’s to enforce them.
But ask him about what gun-related policies or laws would make his officers’ jobs less dangerous, and he’s glad to opine. In the process, he sheds light on existing laws and practices he believes are putting the lives of officers and the public in peril.
“Wild, Wild West,” Franklin said Monday, when asked to describe the illegal gun problem on the streets of Tulsa. “We are pulling significant amounts of guns from individuals who shouldn’t have them.”
Tulsa is on pace to have more homicides this year than it did last year. To date, 38 people have been killed in the city; in 2021, there were 62.
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A year earlier, in 2020, the number was 79, according to data provided by the Police Department.
Franklin responded decisively when asked what factors are contributing to that unpleasant reality: the state’s constitutional carry law and “ghost guns” — untraceable weapons made from kits.
Passed by the state Legislature in early 2019, constitutional carry gives Oklahomans the right to carry firearms without a permit or training.
“Everyone wants to have their gun with them or near them,” Franklin said. “If they go into a location where they can’t have it, then they leave it in their vehicle and vehicles get broken into.”
Or they get home and leave the guns in their cars with the doors unlocked.
“Again, somebody just goes around checking door handles and capitalizes on the opportunity,” Franklin said
A straw purchase is one made by an individual with a clean record, who then provides the gun — or guns — to someone who the law says is not allowed to have one.
Together, constitutional carry and straw purchases “significantly puts our officers at risk,” Franklin said.
“Because when there is an over abundance of guns out there in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them we are forced to go out and deal with that … it causes us to be involved in more shootings,” he said.
Franklin ticked off three measures he believes would help get guns off the streets and make officers safer: shortening the time it takes ATF to trace guns used in crimes; requiring individuals selling guns to follow the same gun registration practices as federally licensed firearms dealers; and mandating that serial numbers be placed on ghost guns.
A federally licensed firearms dealer has to keep a record of every gun he brings into the store and sells, Franklin said, information the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms uses to trace where guns used to commit crimes were purchased.
“I think there is always … a balance that could be struck between having electronic records so that ATF has that information at their fingertips to be able to trace a firearm,” Franklin said. “Instead of us physically being forced to go to a gun dealer who has to keep a copy in whatever filing system they have.
“It is a monumental task to be able to track that down and then hope that the gun dealer has kept appropriate records.”
Gun sales by individuals are even more difficult to track down, he said.
“If you decide to sell your gun, there is no track record of when you sell it, who you sold it to, nothing like that,” Franklin said. “That makes it difficult, especially when we are trying to trace a firearm to see where its origin is.”
Franklin said ATF is expected to take steps later this year to address the registration of ghost guns.
Although he’s not seen the details of the federal gun safety proposal announced Sunday by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, Franklin expressed general support for improving background checks, increasing funding for mental health services, and encouraging red flag laws — all measures included in the proposal.
Red flag laws allow police to temporarily confiscate guns from people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. In May, Gov. Kevin Kevin Stitt signed legislation outlawing such measures.
Franklin said he still needs to learn more about how red flag laws would work before making a final determination on their effectiveness.
“You tell me what law enforcement’s role is in it and I will tell you whether or not it is something that is practical or something we can actually do,” he said
Among the problems with the federal background check system, Franklin said, is that sometimes one part of the system is unable to communicate with other parts of the system.
“So those loopholes need to be changed,” he said.
Franklin sees gun shows as another place where regulations could be tightened. Typically, such shows include a mix of private sellers and federally registered firearms dealers.
“Gun shows are considered person-to-person transactions, thus there is no need for a federal firearms license nor a background check,” he said. “Again, another loophole.
“I’m not familiar with proposed legislation, but I do know that there is room for, say, a federally licensed individual or entity to oversee a gun show and that all checks and things would have to flow through that dealer.”
Another potential avenue to addressing the proliferation of guns: more stringent enforcement of existing laws, including those intended to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and others with a history of serious crimes.
“We still need to be aggressive with the prosecution of those individuals that are caught that shouldn’t have a firearm,” Franklin said. “They should be doing harder sentences for that.”
Ultimately, the police chief said, it will be up to lawmakers to create legislation that balances public safety and people’s Second Amendment rights.
Speaking hypothetically, Franklin said that if police were permitted to check vehicles for guns as they enter a neighborhood, that would likely decrease the number of guns in that area. But it would come with a trade-off.
“I think there has to be some balance struck between everyone’s Second Amendment right and safety,” Franklin said. “And those lawmakers are going to have to come up with what that balance is.”
Oklahoma has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, and is among the states with the highest percentage of gun deaths per capita, according to Everytown For Gun Safety — a gun safety advocacy group — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is intense debate regarding whether or not stricter firearm regulations would result in fewer deaths by guns, and Franklin himself believes legislation alone won’t reduce the violence.
“Parents have got to step up to the plate and parent their child. There shouldn’t be a television or a computer or a laptop or an IPad in a kid’s possession that a parent isn’t regulating,” Franklin said.
“Some of the violence that we see on social media sites that are readily at our fingertips desensitizes … (and) has an effect on us over time, and I don’t think people understand that.”
Gallery: Tulsa World coverage of mass shooting targeting doctor at Saint Francis