By Larry Keane
Oklahoma has its fair share of prime hunting. The most prized trophy for state lawmakers, though, might be getting their hands on firearm or ammunition companies.
Oklahoma legislators recently held a hearing to figure out what they might do to bring gun-related businesses to the Sooner State. It’s an interesting development as states are increasingly taking note of the value of firearm-related businesses. Tennessee just landed Smith & Wesson for their new headquarters, manufacturing and warehousing. Texas recently passed laws to protect the firearm industry against discrimination by corporations. Now, Oklahoma wants gun and ammo companies to know that they’re open for business and are looking for ways to make rolling out a welcome mat look even more attractive.
That’s why Republican state Rep. Kevin West and the House Business and Commerce Committee held an interim study. They wanted to investigate ways Oklahoma can attract firearm-related business that might be considering relocation. There are 114 firearm manufacturers in Oklahoma, ranking it 14th in the nation. Oklahoma has over 4,500 jobs tied to the firearm industry with an economic impact of $536.4 million.
“Oklahoma has a lot to offer firearms and ammunition manufacturers looking for a place to move, expand or start up,” Rep. West said in a press statement. “We need to develop a coordinated and targeted plan to attract these businesses to Oklahoma.”
Creating a Plan
The committee was examining state and federal regulations as well as interstate, intrastate and international travel statutes. The committee also looked at distribution, potential economic impact and targeted incentives.
“We need to develop a coordinated and targeted plan to attract these businesses to Oklahoma,” West continued. “This starts with identifying exactly what we currently have to offer, what we need to offer, and how to address the specific needs of these manufacturers either through better efforts or legislative action. Other states, not so different from us, have seen success in these areas. There is no reason to not look at what has and has not worked for them and implement or avoid those same practices here.”
NSSF’s Darren LaSorte, Government Relations – State Affairs Director, was on hand for the hearing. LaSorte presented the most significant factors firearm industry members must consider when thinking about a possible relocation, including infrastructure, skilled labor and pro-business and pro-gun state policies. Smith & Wesson’s decision to move to Tennessee was driven largely by a proposed bill in Massachusetts that would have banned the company from producing Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), which account for 60 percent of their revenue.
LaSorte explained that state lawmakers can ensure Oklahoma is an attractive business location by adopting legislation to protect firearm businesses from discriminatory practices by big banks and other essential service provider companies, ensuring that firearm business wouldn’t be targeted for closure during declared emergencies since they are vital to providing citizens the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights and bolstering existing state-level Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protections that would protect manufacturers, distributors and retailers from harassing lawsuits over the unlawful use of a firearm by a remote third party.
Oklahoma Republican state Rep. Jay Steagall spoke at the hearing too. He offered a unique perspective as he owns Cloverleaf Precision and talked about all of the challenges faced by small firearm manufacturers, firearm retailers and training centers.
To be sure, Oklahoma is already a gun-friendly state. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt is a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s gun control agenda.
“As long as I’m governor, we will fight back against that federal overreach,” Gov. Stitt told Fox News earlier this year. “It’s disappointing what is happening in D.C., the partisanship that the president is displaying.”
He added, “We’re going to defend our right to bear arms in the state of Oklahoma.”
Gov. Stitt signed a constitutional carry law in 2019. The state has no restriction on MSRs, owning or using a suppressor while hunting and has a state preemption law that forbids municipalities from enacting their own patchwork of gun control laws. He is also an avid hunter, sharing photos of his harvests on social media and encouraging hunters in his state to participate and pass along hunting traditions to others.
Gov. Stitt is also interested in the firearm businesses already in the state. He visited Rise Armament a year ago to learn about their manufacturing processes. Rise Armament was the beneficiary of Gov. Stitt’s Manufacturing Reboot Program to assist existing Oklahoma manufacturers to retool new product development or expand capabilities.
Oklahoma is ready to move on these ideas. The state’s Department of Commerce is already planning on sending a team to SHOT Show 2022 in Las Vegas to speak directly to industry leaders to let them know, Oklahoma is open for firearm businesses.