Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Foster Parents Sue Oklahoma Department of Human Service for Violating Gun Ownership Rights

When do state requirements for adopting or foster-parenting a child go too far?

Becoming an adoptive or foster parent can be an obstacle course. Would-be parents must be able to demonstrate their fitness to raise children in ways that biological parents do not. They have to prove that they not only understand the responsibilities of accepting and loving a child but also have the resources to meet a child's practical needs. Interviews, background checks, financial inquiries, home assessments, and other evaluations are all part of this process.

But some adoption requirements could violate the constitutional rights of prospective parents. Since 2014, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has barred adoptive and foster parents from possessing firearms in a number of circumstances. The OKDHS requires foster and adoptive parents to sign a "Weapons Safety Agreement" providing that parents keep weapons locked in storage when not in use, that they not carry weapons if a child is present unless required to by their employer, and that they make sure that weapons in a car are unloaded and in a locked container. The agency considers these safety measures rather than a ban on owning guns.

The plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit, a married couple with a history of raising numerous foster and adopted children, don't agree. In their view, the rule deprives them of the right to possess and carry weapons for self-defense when around their adoptive or foster children. One of the plaintiffs has had a concealed carry permit for over a decade but fears carrying a weapon lest it result in his children being taken away.

According to the suit, by preventing adoptive and foster parents from lawfully possessing guns and by treating them differently from other law-abiding parents, the policy violates the couple's rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as under Oklahoma's state constitution. They are seeking an injunction to block enforcement of the policy.

The agency says it is reviewing its policies on foster parents who have firearms permits, though the safety of children remains its priority.

Not all those applying to adopt or foster-parent a child in Oklahoma will find the firearms policy burdensome. But other requirements may prove too intrusive or onerous. The help of a concerned and committed adoption attorney can level the playing field when state agencies overreach, helping prospective parents—and the children they hope to raise—achieve their dreams. 

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