State gun regulation will not affect Cherokee Nation firearm laws

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
04/26/2019 08:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Shannon Buhl, Cherokee Nation Marshal Service director, recommends that gun owners voluntarily seek firearm instruction despite a new state law that allows gun owners with no training to carry firearms openly or concealed in public. ARCHIVE
TAHLEQUAH – With the recent passage and signing of a bill by the Oklahoma Legislature and governor, state residents will have a wider berth when it comes to carrying firearms in public.

Effective Nov. 1, House Bill 2597 will allow people 21 or older, as well as veterans, active duty and reserve military members age 18 or older to carry a firearm without a permit. The bill will not allow felons, people convicted of domestic violence and those with a mental illness to carry firearms.

However, the bill will have no impact on Cherokee land or in tribal buildings, Shannon Buhl, Cherokee Nation Marshal Service director, said.

“State law does not go into Indian Country,” he said. “Even the current concealed carry laws do not transfer. The Cherokee Nation does not have a concealed carry permit law. Even when (HB 2597) goes into effect, it will still be the same in Indian Country: No law, no permit.”

Federal firearm laws are observed on CN lands and in tribal facilities. Buhl said firearms could be carried in three circumstances. Law enforcement officers, whether on or off duty, are allowed to carry guns, as are security officers, such as those staffed at casinos or patrolling the Tribal Complex. Hunters actively engaged in the sport on Indian lands can possess and use firearms.

Buhl said there are no other “permits or mechanisms” for carry, and the laws equally apply to any non-Native on tribal land or property.

He said the state law still allows establishments to ban firearms on their premises, and gun owners who observe state regulations and private bans will be in compliance “90 percent of the time” when on tribal lands.

“You can’t go into a government building armed, and you also can’t go into a casino,” Buhl said. “It’s kind of the same. We might get into issues someplace like the powwow grounds. That’s Indian Country. Some might think they can take a gun there.”

Patrons possessing firearms at events such as the Cherokee National Holiday Powwow will not be carted away left and right, he said.

“Our philosophy is if you are a citizen, not a felon, and not doing anything crazy, we will advise you that this is Indian Country and give you an opportunity to take your gun off the land,” Buhl said. “We are not going to just walk up and arrest people. We believe in the Second Amendment as much as anybody else. It is not a right given by the government, but a right we already have. The Second Amendment applies to the government not taking that right from us.”

Buhl said the CNMS enforces firearm laws as interpreted by the CN attorney general’s office. The Tribal Council could choose to adjust the laws, though something running wildly afoul of federal law – say, legalizing submachine guns – would likely be challenged in U.S. courts, he said.

Though Oklahoma law does not require firearm training to carry, and Buhl agrees that a lack of training should not preclude firearm ownership or use, he nonetheless encourages any firearm owner to get quality instruction and become proficient with the weapon.

“Learn what you can and can’t do,” he said. “Learn what you should and shouldn’t do. Whether carrying or at home, become proficient and learn how to take care of the firearm. Make sure your family is safe. As a responsible gun owner, you should get as much training for the actual application of the firearm and the legal ways to use it. Nobody wants to use a firearm the incorrect way and get in trouble for it. Once you pull that trigger and the bullet leaves that gun, you are responsible for it, wherever it goes, until it stops.”

Buhl also encouraged those who carry in public to conceal their weapons, even though the state allows open carry.

“I don’t want people to know I have a gun on because it makes people uncomfortable,” he said. “And if there are bad people around there to do bad things, you become an instant target if you open carry.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt, a CN citizen, signed HB 2597 into law on Feb. 27. It does not affect current federal laws mandating a background check for the purchase of firearms at stores. Private property owners and college campuses can still set their own firearms policies on their properties.
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