Republicans revive bid for Indiana handgun permit repeal

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican legislators on Wednesday revived a proposal to repeal Indiana’s handgun permit requirement that has drawn strong objections from major police organizations.

The proposal was sidelined last week by Republican Senate leaders after a Senate committee approved an amendment that supporters complained gutted the bill. That action came after State Police Superintendent Doug Carter pointedly told committee members that if lawmakers “support this bill, you will not be supporting us.”

Republicans on a House-Senate conference committee on Wednesday inserted the permit repeal provisions into an unrelated bill.

Committee Chairman Sen. Eric Koch, a Republican from Bedford, allowed no testimony on the bill, saying afterward that the issue had already gone through lengthy public hearings earlier in the legislative session. The House in January approved the permit repeal provisions along party lines.

“I’m very confident that this issue has been thoroughly vetted,” Koch said.

The provisions would allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun in public except for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order from a court or having a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police background checks that can take weeks.

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, criticized the move by Republicans who dominate the Legislature as a “jam job” to give new life to a proposal that missed the Senate’s deadline for passage and will prevent any further public testimony.

“If this bill was such a priority to them, you would think that they would have just been able to move it through their normal process,” Pierce said.

Indiana currently requires people to obtain a license to carry a loaded handgun outside their own homes, businesses and cars, although people can generally carry rifles and shotguns without a permit. Twenty-one other states allow residents to carry handguns without permits, which gun rights advocates call “constitutional carry,” in reference to the Second Amendment.

The House and Senate would have to approve the repeal before the expected adjournment of this year’s legislative session next week. Passage in the Senate isn’t a certainty as Republican senators did not take up a similar House-approved bill last year, citing the opposition from police groups.

The committee action on Wednesday deleted a bill with bipartisan support that would add several synthetic opioids to the state’s list of illegal drugs.

Democrats said it appeared Republicans were more concerned about making a political move to push through the permit repeal than updating drug laws.

“Drug trafficking and drug overdoses, drug use is such a big issue in Indiana, much more than people being concerned about not being able to get a permit in time, which is what was their whole premise for this bill,” said Democratic Rep. Ragen Hatcher of Gary.

Leaders of the state Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs association and county prosecutors association have joined the state police superintendent in criticizing the permit repeal proposal, arguing that it would strip officers of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people they encounter who shouldn’t have guns.

State Police Maj. Rob Simpson, an assistant chief of staff for the agency, told committee Democrats after Republicans adjourned Wednesday’s meeting that he believed the proposal would lead to more people carrying firearms openly in stores and other public places.

“We are definitely adding a layer of insecurity to all of our citizens and us as law enforcement,” Simpson said.