Cherokee Nation gun rights ‘broadest’ in tribe’s history, AG says

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill shakes hands with Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. after he signed the Cherokee Nation Family Protection and Violence Against Women Act on Sept. 30, 2022. Hill says that tribal laws passed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma decision have expanded gun ownership protections within the reservation. 

TAHLEQUAH – The historic McGirt v. Oklahoma decision of 2020 sparked the largest expansion of gun ownership protection within the Cherokee Nation Reservation, according to the tribe’s attorney general.

Observing what AG Sara Hill described as “fairly draconian” firearm regulations pre-McGirt, the CN modernized its gun laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority decision that acknowledged much of eastern Oklahoma remains tribal territory.

“One of the things we did post-McGirt was the Tribal Council and Chief (Chuck Hoskin Jr.) enacted some of the broadest protections for gun owners in Cherokee Nation history,” Hill said. “What it did was create protections that really sort of made the laws of the Cherokee Nation extremely similar to the laws of Oklahoma, including things like constitutional carry. So people who are over the age of 21 can carry either concealed or open weapons on the reservation, and people between the ages of 18 and 21 can carry them if they are in military service.”

Updates to the Cherokee Nation Firearms Act of 1971 were passed in 2020 following the McGirt decision, Hill said.

“It was part of a huge change in the law, so there were a lot of sections,” she said. “So it’s not surprising that maybe people might have looked past this. But I think one of the things people need to know is that basically the largest expansion of gun ownership protections in the Nation’s history occurred in the last couple of years.”

Prior to the update, gun laws in the reservation were “very limited,” Hill said.

“Most of the Cherokee Nation’s laws sort of modeled Oklahoma’s laws circa 1991,” she added. “They were pretty dated. By modern standards the laws were fairly draconian prior to that.”

She noted the tribe’s gun laws are essentially constitutional carry and contain only limited restrictions also found in state law.

“Just like in any place in Oklahoma, having a right to bear a weapon doesn’t mean you can take it anywhere you want,” she said. “There are places if the homeowner or the people who own the premises ban weapons, you can’t bring it into the facility. There are other certain types of facilities where guns cannot be brought. It’s the same as Oklahoma.”

The Cherokee Nation bans weapons from its properties, owned or leased, including the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah.

“The complex is one of those places where it’s posted that you cannot take firearms, not because it’s illegal to take them to Cherokee Nation properties, but because Cherokee Nation has prohibited it on its own properties like any property owner can,” Hill said.

Among other locations in the reservation that handguns are prohibited are public or private elementary schools, sports arenas during professional events unless allowed by the event-holder and any place where gambling is authorized unless allowed by the property owner.

“There are places where it is strictly prohibited,” Hill said. “Of course, court houses, prisons and jails – they don’t like you carrying your gun into jails for obvious reasons.”

Also, certain individuals are not legally allowed to carry firearms.

“Of course, felons are not permitted to carry or possess firearms,” Hill said. “Also people who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes and people who have violated specific kinds of protective orders. That’s a matter of federal law not tribal law, but it does tend to come up a lot in my discussion with folks.”