Moore_Oklahoma State Representative Paul Wesselhoft of Moore says the state's greatest threats aren't fires, floods, or tornadoes - but, its dangerous - and sometimes deadly - gangs. He is proposing a new gang bill to help battle the baddies. His legislation would make it a misdemeanor to be a member of a gang, and would allow police to arrest a known gang member on sight - simply for belonging to a gang. The Republican lawmaker says about 90% of gang members are known to police, and many easily can be tied to specific gangs by certain clothing and tattoos specific to a particular gang.
Lawton sees its fair share of gang violence in the form of home invasions, drive-bys, and murders. "Knifing, shootings, killings, drive-bys, home invasions, drug deals gone wrong...it's almost to the point of being out of control' and I'm going to outlaw gangs," says Wesselhoft. He says he plans to do so by arming police with the ability to arrest gang members on sight. The proposed legislation says that the officer must prove that an organized gang also takes part in organized crime. "The fact that they are assembling and they are a member of a gang - this will be a misdemeanor charge," he says. "But it will give the authorities the opportunities to make these arrests."
Wesselhoft says he had no idea the gang problem was so bad until he attended a recent gang taskforce conference, where he learned that gangs aren't only a threat to other gangs, but also the rest of the city's population. "Citizens should not be intimidated because we as bystanders, innocent bystanders, could be shot anytime, and we've got to do something about that," he says.
However, not everyone is on board with the proposal. Some are worried about infringing on people's civil liberties and their constitutional right to assemble. But, Wesselhoft says he thinks he has that covered. "I think I'm on good grounds because the First Amendment does not protect organized gangs that have a demonstrated pattern of illegal or juvenile delinquent activity," he says.
Wesselhoft says he does not believe that gang members would go underground if this were to become law. He says gang members want everyone to know him - he says it's a matter of pride, and that's why they wear certain colors/clothing and get gang specific tattoos. He says he doesn't think they would go incognito.
If Oklahoma passes the legislation, it would be the first state to outlaw gangs, but Wesselhoft says he thinks other states would soon follow. He is looking for a senate sponsor for his bill, but he does not think it will be a problem since many in that chamber have expressed their support.