INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation inspired by the stray-bullet death of a 13-year-old Hammond boy likely will not advance in the Indiana House this year, despite the support of more than 5,000 petition-signers and the Hammond Fraternal Order of Police.
House Bill 1387, sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, was not included Monday on the final meeting agenda of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee led by state Rep. Thomas Washburne, R-Inglefield.
Without committee review and approval on Wednesday, the measure cannot be voted on by the full House prior to the Feb. 5 deadline for House-originating legislation to advance to the Senate.
The proposal would create a new Level 6 felony crime — dangerous discharge of a firearm — for any person "who knowingly or intentionally discharges a loaded firearm without legal justification while in a city or town."
It follows the July 1, 2017, shooting of Noah Inman. He was playing basketball outside in the 7300 block of Harrison Avenue when Inman was struck by a falling bullet shot into the sky, possibly to celebrate Independence Day, by an unknown person living nearby, according to police.
Inman died July 7 at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital where he was flown following the shooting.
Washburne said that while he's not necessarily opposed to the legislation, he just hasn't had sufficient time to review whether it is needed.
Or, if the ills it seeks to remedy already are covered by other statutes, such as involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.
"I think we would need to understand whether they're inadequate or not, and, frankly, in a week there just isn't time," Washburne said.
"You've got to understand, I get 50 bills (referred to my committee), and the first time that I ever heard of that bill was last week."
Pleading for help
Washburne's decision not to hear the legislation in committee is not deterring Inman's mother, Shannon Burczyk, and aunt, Kaleigh Boyle, both of Hammond, who traveled Monday to the Statehouse telling Inman's story to anyone who would listen.
Holding a large photo of her slain son, Burczyk spoke to numerous state representatives, including Washburne, asking for the opportunity to have Lawson's legislation considered by the House.
"I don't want another mother, or another child or another aunt to have to go through what our family is going through," Burczyk said.
She's not alone.
A change.org petition urging Hoosier lawmakers to approve "Noah's Law" had more than 5,100 signers as of Monday night.
The Hammond FOP also recommended on its Facebook page that city residents contact Washburne directly to ask for a committee hearing.
Boyle said she was disappointed to learn that action on such an important issue can be halted by the decision of just one man in the 100-member chamber.
"I think that the committee that he (Washburne) chairs needs to hear it. I don't understand why it should stop at his desk," Boyle said.
In any case, Boyle insisted: "We're not going to stop today; we're not going to stop tomorrow."
Lawson remains hopeful that if Burczyk reaches out to enough lawmakers there still might be a chance to amend the proposal onto other legislation moving through the General Assembly.
"I'm happy that she's here. I'm happy that she is making contact with legislators," Lawson said. "I would give anything if this bill could get heard."
She said it's necessary, because current law does not fully account for the danger of stray bullets fired in urban and suburban areas where houses often are back-to-back and many residents live in apartments, in contrast to the wide open spaces of rural Indiana.
"It's about common sense," Lawson said. "This is no way to celebrate."
Hammond is not the only Region community struggling to deal with dangerous gun use.
The town of Winfield, in southern Lake County, adopted an ordinance in December limiting firearm discharges within town limits after four homes were struck by stray bullets.
Boyle believes Lawson's legislation would add some badly needed teeth to such measures, as the potential penalty — up to two-and-a-half years in jail — would act as a deterrent to recklessly shooting a gun in an incorporated community.
"If they know they're going to jail, and know something worse is going to happen, maybe they'll think about it more," she said.