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House passes constitutional carry; bill awaits Senate review

Update: A bill that would repeal Indiana’s requirement for a license to carry a handgun passed the Indiana House Feb. 22.

Authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz (above), R-Auburn, HB 1369 was advanced to the Senate in a 65-31 vote.

Before the vote, legislators spoke in support of and in opposition to the bill, with much of the debate centering on provisions that only “lawful citizens” would be permitted to carry handguns.

Concerns about the bill have centered on the need of a database to keep track of individuals who would not be allowed to legally carry a handgun and the loss of revenue from licensing fees.

In arguing for the bill’s passage, Smaltz returned to his main argument that prohibited individuals will carry a gun regardless of the law and licenses are an obstacle for people with no criminal records.

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Earlier: A bill to repeal Indiana’s licensing requirement to carry a handgun cleared a House committee Feb. 15.

House Bill 1369, authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, passed the House Public Policy Committee in a 9-3 vote after being amended.

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Earlier: The House Public Policy Committee heard testimony on Feb. 10 from groups that support and oppose the bill, which would add Indiana to the 16 states that have adopted similar measures, known as constitutional carry. Overall, the committee hearing took three hours to hear all testimony. Authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, House Bill 1369 would allow only individuals with no criminal records to lawfully carry a handgun and set penalties for illegal ownership.

“Constitutional carry would make someone believe that what we’re saying is anybody can carry anywhere, anytime … and we’re not saying that,” Smaltz said. “This bill is for the lawful citizen of the state of Indiana.

“This bill is for the person who obeys our laws, who right now has to jump over the hurdles to be the person that gets the permit.”

Nearly 30 people testified at the hearing Wednesday, representing groups that included law enforcement, firearms instructors, public defenders, mothers and gun rights activists.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, who is chairman of the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board, testified against the bill. He said ISP has rejected 28,000 gun permit applications since 2015 and in 2020 alone received 300,000 new applications.

A fiscal analysis compiled by the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Services Agency notes that terminating the licensing requirement would result in an estimated revenue loss of $5 million. A reciprocity license would be needed for gun owners to carry a firearm across state lines; the price is still a debate.

The 2A Project, an organization founded to protect the rights of gun owners, has been urging its members to support the bill and to contact their legislators.

“I’ve never liked the idea that law-abiding citizens have to go to their government and beg permission and pay a fee in order to exercise a constitutionally protected right,” said Guy Relford, chief executive officer of the 2A Project. “The Indiana constitution is very clear. It’s elegant in its simplicity, that the people shall have the right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state.”

The current procedure to obtain a license is to complete an online application, then, within 90 days, individuals must submit their fingerprints electronically and contact their local law enforcement agency for processing. The license fee varies by the type of permit the individual is seeking, such as a license to hunt or for personal defense. The Indiana State Police reviews the application and completes the background checks.

Among those testifying against the bill was Jody Madeira, professor of law at Indiana University in Bloomington, whose areas of expertise include the Second Amendment.

Madeira warned that removing the licensing requirement might increase the risk of threatening behavior and accidental shootings.

“Legislative determinations about firearm regulation don’t just require us to counterpose constitutional rights of gun owners against some worthless safety or policy interests,” Madeira said. “Instead, we have to examine the full spectrum of reasons why gun laws are enacted. They not only prevent shootings, they not only protect bodies from bullets—protecting public safety also means protecting the public’s interest in physical safety as a good in itself and as a basis for other constitutional liberties.”

Her concerns surround the idea of being able to carry a gun wherever one desires, increasing the risk of accidents.

“In 2017, we had Parkland, and perhaps that reminded us that this was not a good thing to pass,” Madeira said. “But, you know, I would hate to say it would take another mass shooting to remind us, right?”

Madeira referred to the mass shooting that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where then 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire in the school, killing 17 people and injuring dozens.

Relford rejected the idea that removing the licensing requirement would make guns more accessible to criminals, saying that regardless of the law, felons will obtain a weapon.

“Criminals are going to carry guns, whether they have a license or not, because they’re criminals, so all the licensing requirement does is put a burden on law-abiding citizens,” Relford said.

“It is a class A misdemeanor. It’s not even a felony … If you intend to commit murder, are you going to worry about that class A misdemeanor? It’s a silly argument.”

On the contrary, Rachel Guglielmo, a member of Moms Demand Action, said the nationwide organization’s members are also writing to their lawmakers to oppose the bill moving forward.

“Gun violence occurs in every context, among all kinds of people—and often among people who didn’t have any violent history,” Guglielmo said. “…I would boil that down: We have to take a broader view of how we think about gun violence, and it’s not just violent criminals as our legislators would have us believe.”

Carolina Puga Mendoza is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.