Prior to July 2020, most Native Americans in Oklahoma were subject to the same laws regarding carrying a firearm (namely, the Self Defense Act and 21 O.S. § 1272) as other Oklahoma residents and were subject to criminal sanctions in municipal or district court for violating the law. However, the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court case of McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020) changed that. The Supreme Court in McGirt declared that the eastern portions of Oklahoma that are designated as “Indian country” fall exclusively under federal jurisdiction for major crimes committed by tribal members under The Major Crimes Act (“MCA”).

McGirt v. Oklahoma

When a Native American Indian who is a member of a federally recognized tribe is a perpetrator of a criminal act while on an Indian reservation, the MCA applies. Minor crimes are within the jurisdiction of the Native American courts.

The State of Oklahoma argued that the eastern portions of the state were no longer reservations or “Indian country.” In a rare victory for Native American rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the series of treaties from 1833 through 1866 between the United States government and the Creek Nation were still in full force and effect. As a result, the Supreme Court decided that the State of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction to incarcerate, try, or sentence a Native American tribal member accused of committing one of the “major crimes” listed in 18 U.S. Code § 1153 if the crime occurred anywhere on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma.

This BBC article shows the location of the Indian reservations within Oklahoma that were affected by the ruling. It is currently estimated that there are over 3,000,000 acres of Indian reservations in Oklahoma, encompassing the cities of Tulsa and Muskogee and a list of counties that includes Creek, Hughes, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Rogers, Seminole, Tulsa, and Wagoner.

It is clear that the State of Oklahoma can still regulate the carrying of firearms and other weapons by non-Native Americans everywhere in the State of Oklahoma and Native Americans when they are off the reservation.

If you have questions about carrying on Tribal Lands, please call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

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