OKLAHOMA CITY — While most legislative candidates typically debate their opponents with battles of wits and words, Tom Stites demanded a shooting match.

The plan was to prove which candidate was more proficient with firearms and could perhaps better represent constituents on Second Amendment issues at the Capitol. Stites also proposed that the event raise money for charity.

“I believe it would have proven which one of us was, I call it, ‘the real gun guy,’” he said. “I’m terrible with a bow and arrow, but I’m pretty good with most firearms.”

The Sallisaw Democrat, who is vice president of an oil and gas firm, said he was disappointed when Jim Olsen, R-Roland, turned him down.

“We are not running to become sniper of Sequoyah County, we are running to be the state representative,” said Olsen, who works in real estate and has a lawn care business. “To do that job well in relation to the Second Amendment, what you need is not necessarily top marksmanship skills.”

Olsen said his supporters couldn’t help but laugh at the unconventional challenge.

While the challenge may seem unorthodox in modern politics, one thing both candidates agree on is that Second Amendment rights are a serious issue for many voters who live in the far eastern Oklahoma House district.

“In our district, they feel very strongly about it,” Olsen said. “They definitely want to keep their guns.”

Across the state, voters continue to take gun rights very seriously and search for candidates who share and want to protect their constitutionally protected rights, said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association. Spencer lobbies the Legislature on behalf of gun owners.

Second Amendment supporters want candidates who support constitutional carry, which could allow Oklahomans to bear firearms without licensing or training, Spencer said. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a measure that would have legalized that earlier this year.

The group wants lawmakers to strengthen so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws so that people can defend themselves without facing a judge or jury, he said. Gun owners also want to be allowed to carry guns on college campuses and in government buildings that are not secure, like utility providers or libraries, he said.

“We’re just trying to get rid of the non-gun zones, as many as we can,” he said.

Already this election cycle, Spencer said he’s been contacted by multiple candidates interested in filling out surveys about their positions on gun issues and hoping for an endorsement. Spencer said candidates told him that voters wouldn’t support them without first knowing their position on the Second Amendment.

To date, Spencer said his group has endorsed about four to six dozen potential legislators.

“If you’re not OK2A endorsed, something may not be right,” he said.

Gun issues this week even encroached into the governor’s race as Republicans announced a fundraiser that promised participants a chance to “Shoot Machine Guns with Kevin Stitt.”

In addition to meeting the Republican gubernatorial nominee, the private event in Shawnee promised U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., would be present along with a bevy of other Republican state lawmakers.

“As governor, I will defend Oklahomans’ rights in the U.S. Constitution, to include Oklahomans’ right to bear arms,” Kevin Stitt said in an email after the event. “I don’t believe in punishing law-abiding gun owners for the atrocious and illegal actions of an individual. We need to enforce the safety laws in place and provide support for the deep, systematic problems in our society that lead to violence.”

In a statement, Democratic challenger Drew Edmondson said he grew up hunting with his father and shared the same experience with his son.

“I have a concealed carry license and will always be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “I learned to handle an M16 in the military, and that’s the weapon I carried while serving in Vietnam. My sidearm was a Smith & Wesson 9 mm during my time as district attorney. I know gun ownership is important to many Oklahomans, and it is to me too.”

In the eastern Oklahoma legislative race, Olsen ultimately won the endorsement from gun groups.

“The guy that would not actually have a shooting match with me to see if he actually was proficient and accurate with guns has now secured an endorsement of the (National Rifle Association) over me,” said Stites, who is a lifetime member of the NRA.

Olsen said he already uses Oklahoma law to carry a concealed gun, but he also now openly carries on occasion.

He said there’s no need to prove his shooting proficiency.

“To legislate these issues, you don’t have to own 20 or 50 guns… you don’t have to be a top marksman,” Olsen said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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