General Assembly votes to eliminate handgun carry licenses in Indiana | Crime and Courts

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It’s now up to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to decide whether Indiana will become the 22nd state to allow handgun owners age 18 and older to carry their weapon in public without needing to obtain a state license.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled General Assembly employed an extraordinary procedure to revive the permitless carry proposal from House Bill 1077, which failed to advance in the Senate, and insert it into House Enrolled Act 1296 for final votes in each chamber.

The House outcome largely mirrored the result on the earlier measure and passed 68-30 with little back-and-forth between lawmakers.

It was a different story in the Senate, however, where the usual rapid pace of the final day of the annual legislative session was put on hold for nearly three hours while senators respectfully debated the Constitution, individual liberty, public safety, support for law enforcement, gun violence, crime, and a host of other gun-related issues.

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In the end, though, the Senate voted 30-20 to advance the plan to the governor, who so far has remained mum on whether he intends to sign it into law or issue a rare veto.

Regardless, it takes in Indiana only a simple majority — the same 50% plus one required to send legislation to the governor in the first place — for the General Assembly to override a gubernatorial veto and enact a measure into law notwithstanding his objections.

The legislation repeals the state’s existing licensing requirement to carry a handgun in public effective July 1, allows Hoosiers wanting a license for out-of-state reciprocity purposes to continue to get one at no cost, and makes firearm theft a level 5 felony punishable by up to six years in prison, instead of a level 6 felony.

If enacted into law, public carry of a handgun still would be denied to convicted felons; fugitives; some non-citizens; a person convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery or criminal stalking; a person under a restraining order; a person under indictment; a person formally deemed dangerous or mentally defective; or a person dishonorably discharged from military service.

Handguns also would continue to be prohibited at school buildings. In addition, businesses and homeowners would retain the right to bar customers or guests from bringing a handgun onto their property.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the sponsor, said he believes it’s wrong for Indiana to condition the constitutional right to keep and bear arms on an “incredibly burdensome” requirement that lawful gun owners get permission from the state and submit their fingerprints before carrying a handgun in public.

He said criminals, by their very nature, are not taking the time to get a carry license, so why should “Mr. and Mrs. Hoosier” have to jump through a bunch of hoops to be able to defend themselves from those criminals?

On the other hand, multiple law enforcement professionals vigorously opposed permitless carry, including Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter who said eliminating handgun carry permits will endanger the more than 18,000 police officers serving Hoosiers across the state.

Specifically, Carter and representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police said eliminating handgun carry permits will make Hoosier police officers less safe because there no longer will be an easy way to confirm a person with handgun is legally entitled to be carrying it.

“If you choose to support this bill you will not be supporting us. You will not be supporting the front-line officer,” Carter said. “Shifting the burden from the individual who applied for the permit to the front-line officer is wrong on so many levels. But that’s what you’re doing.”

That argument was good enough for House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, who said local police officers he spoke with about the issue agreed with the state police leader there’s no reason to get rid of the database of individuals licensed to carry a handgun.

“We should be doing everything we can to back up law enforcement. We should be doing everything we can to make our streets safer. This won’t do that,” GiaQuinta said. “If you vote for this bill you’re making the streets of Indiana less safe.”

State Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, vehemently disagreed with the characterization that permitless carry will increase crime and endanger law enforcement.

“You absolutely can support law enforcement and support this bill,” Freeman said. “You either trust the citizens of Indiana or you don’t.”

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said if the Legislature is going to trust Hoosiers it similarly should trust its own processes and procedures, rather than doing a last-minute end-run to revive and advance a proposal that previously was rejected.

“The lack of transparency present in the process for getting the permitless carry legislation passed has been shameful,” Melton said. “Moving the language from bill to bill in conference committee, now to House Bill 1296, circumvents the legislative process and removes the option for the public to react.

“Most of my constituents oppose this bill, parents oppose this bill and law enforcement opposes this bill. Permitless carry is dangerous for our state, especially at a time when we’re working to decrease violent crime.”

Among Northwest Indiana lawmakers, the legislation was backed by state Reps. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point; Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie; Hal Slager, R-Schererville; and Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; and state Sens. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores; and Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell.

Region lawmakers opposing the measure were state Reps. Mike Andrade, D-Munster; Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron; Pat Boy, D-Michigan City; Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago; Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary; Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond; Chuck Moseley, D-Portage; and Vernon Smith, D-Gary; and state Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso; Michael Griffin, D-Highland; Eddie Melton, D-Gary; Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton; and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.

Following the votes, National Rifle Association Indiana State Director John Weber applauded the General Assembly for codifying “the fundamental right of all people to defend themselves wherever a self-defense situation may arise.”

“Anti-self defense activists try to mislead the public by saying this legislation will allow criminals to carry — nothing could be further from the truth. Similar bills have passed in 21 other states and there has been no resulting increase in crime,” Weber said.

Meanwhile, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl said the outcome shows Statehouse Republicans are ignoring the will of voters and law enforcement — “all to fulfill an extreme agenda.”

“Whether it’s handing firearms to bad actors, discrediting COVID-19 vaccines or politicizing classrooms, Indiana Republicans would rather divide families and communities with their partisan culture wars than actually create a better future for Hoosiers,” Schmuhl said.

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