Gary homicides renew debate on local, state gun control measures

2013-08-03T21:20:00Z 2013-08-04T22:03:05Z Gary homicides renew debate on local, state gun control measuresLauri Harvey Keagle, (219) 852-4311

Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher says ongoing discussions on curbing the gang violence plaguing northern Lake County need to include a look at gun laws.

"What is it about our gun laws here in the state of Indiana that seem to facilitate the ability to get guns?" Hatcher said. "I understand we have a state Legislature and a governor that is very conservative. Getting gun control legislation through the Legislature is almost impossible."

A 2011 law approved 40-10 in the Senate and 70-24 in the House explicitly prohibited local governments from having any independent regulations pertaining to firearms, ammunition and gun ownership and set state law as the default.

Since then, the Republican majority in the Statehouse has grown and, with it, the pro-gun rights contingency even stronger.

At the same time, Gary homicides are up 48 percent this year, with 33 logged to date. A coalition of local, state and federal law enforcement officials continue to discuss how to help curb the violence.

Last week Gov. Mike Pence agreed to send technical assistance to Gary and directed Gary officials to work with Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter to identify needs.

The move was in reaction to Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's request for Pence to send 60 state troopers to the city for 90 days.

The U.S. Department of Justice also is consulting with city leaders.

Hatcher said the collaborations and gang violence are not new to the city. He recalled the Family Street Gang era of the 1970s, when he was mayor, and how he sought assistance from federal officials.

The disparity on gun issues in Northwest Indiana and other parts of the state also is nothing new, he said.

Hatcher told the story of a lunch meeting with a state legislator when he was mayor to discuss gang violence in Gary. The legislator, a House majority leader from Greenfield, "just sat there in stunned silence."

"He said, 'I don't understand how you people live up there,'" Hatcher said. "I said, 'I know you don't.' I wasn't angry. I understood what he meant. My point is the state Legislature then — and now— is basically controlled by people who come from similar cultures and smaller Indiana towns with no concept of what it is like for someone like myself and others to live in the northern part of the state that is highly industrial and diverse."

Hatcher said he believes the county might be able to help with the issue.

"My suggestion is, why couldn't we have a local option gun-control measure?" Hatcher said. "If you live in Greenfield, Ind., where there's maybe one murder every 20 years, and I live in Gary, where there's one murder every day, you may not want gun control. But the people who live in these communities where there's such an abuse of guns want it."

State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, has expressed support for arming school personnel and is frequently praised by the National Rifle Association for his pro-hunting legislation.

Yoder characterized Hatcher's local option gun-control proposal as "an idiotic idea."

"It tramples on everything that's right about the Second Amendment," Yoder said. "We need to stop trying to put Band-Aids on the problem; we need to quit infringing on people's rights in that area and have a real discussion on what it takes to keep people safe.

"Putting little patchwork pieces of gun control in certain areas of the state is never going to work. It's a bad idea."

Still, Hatcher said he thinks discussions need to take place.

"I'm not talking about banning guns," Hatcher said. "But, there has to be control enough to make sure teens aren't getting these guns."

Times staff writer Dan Carden contributed to this report.

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