As a national debate rages over gun control, some lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly are pushing measures intended to expand access to firearms.
One measure would get rid of Indiana’s licensing requirement to carry a handgun. Another would allow guns at public universities and state office buildings. And a third would make it easier for repeat alcohol offenders to get a handgun license.
Those proposals are drawing concerns from gun control advocates, university officials and some in law enforcement. And it’s not clear the measures have the support of legislative leaders or Gov. Mike Pence.
But supporters say the moves are needed to rid state law of unnecessary burdens on those who want to carry weapons.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to make a lawful person jump through hoops and have to pay the state money so they can exercise their constitutionally protected right,” said Rep. Jim Lucas, the Seymour Republican behind two of the measures.
One of them, House Bill 1056, would repeal an Indiana law that requires people to get a license to carry a handgun on their person or in their car. The other, House Bill 1055, would prohibit state agencies, including public universities, from regulating firearms in public buildings or land.
A third bill, filed last week by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, would repeal a law that prevents those with repeat alcohol offenses, such as drunken driving or public intoxication, from getting a handgun license.
Lucas said the proposals would make it easier for law-abiding citizens to better protect themselves in places where handguns are currently banned, including the Statehouse, without the administrative hassles of applying for a license and paying a $75 fee.
Current prohibitions on who can carry a handgun — people with domestic violence convictions or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution — would remain in place under his proposals, Lucas said.
But some university officials say allowing college students to carry weapons to class could do more harm than good.
“Purdue remains committed to its long-standing policy that prohibits weapons on campus,” said John Cox, Purdue University police chief. “Our primary concern is that a change to that policy could negatively impact the dynamics of our campus community and complicate the ability of police and other emergency personnel that would respond to situations in which multiple people could be armed.”
Mark Land, a spokesman for Indiana University, said the school has “consistently opposed efforts to allow individuals to carry guns on our campuses.”
“In our view, to allow the introduction of guns on our campuses would unnecessarily increase the risk to our students, employees and guests,” he said.
Efforts to roll back Indiana’s already lax gun restrictions come as President Barack Obama seeks to curb gun violence with new executive actions aimed at gun shows and Internet sales. The proposals also come as Indianapolis grapples with a record number of homicides and a sharp uptick in shootings.
Despite Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts, GOP leaders at the Statehouse hesitated to embrace the proposals from Lucas and Tomes.
“I think the current system works. Concealed carry is available to law-abiding citizens, like myself, with the pink permit in my pocket,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
He added that the proposal to allow repeat alcohol offenders to obtain a license “gives me pause.”
“We need to be sure that responsible law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms legally in our state. That’s assured by the Constitution,” he said. “But we also need to be certain those who should not be bearing arms, like those who have a history of domestic abuse or mental health problems, do not have the unfettered right to bear arms. So I haven’t formulated an opinion on the alcohol offenders yet.”
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, also declined to take a position on the legislation.
“We haven’t had any discussion on that,” he said. “I’ve got to read it and talk about it.”
Pence said he couldn’t comment on the bills because he hadn’t had time to review them.
“I believe Indiana has a good framework of laws that see to it that our right to keep and bear arms is safe,” he said. “But look, I believe that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens keeps us more safe, not less safe.”
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