Hoosier adults age 18 and up not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm will be entitled to carry a handgun in public without needing to obtain a state permit, beginning July 1.
Despite strong opposition by numerous Indiana police agencies and prosecutors, including the Indiana State Police, Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday signed into law House Enrolled Act 1296 — making Indiana the 24th state to authorize permitless handgun carry.
The Republican chief executive said he was inspired to enact the measure, approved two weeks ago by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, based on his strong support for the 2nd Amendment and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings affirming an individual right to keep and bear arms.
"Vermont has had a constitutional carry law in place since it became a state, and several other states have had a similar law for more than a decade. House Enrolled Act 1296, which I've signed today, entrusts Hoosiers who can lawfully carry a handgun to responsibly do so within our state," Holcomb said.
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At the same time, Holcomb rejected claims by opponents of the new law that it endangers Hoosiers because without a handgun permit system police no longer will have a database or another easy way to identify who is legally entitled to be carrying a handgun.
Representatives of the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council noted approximately 14% of Indiana handgun permit applicants last year were denied a permit because of a prior criminal conviction, lying on the application, a history of mental illness, or another disqualifying factor.
They said with permitless carry those individuals might just start carrying handguns in public places and perhaps not even know they're breaking the law by doing so, all while forcing cops to spend extra time at traffic stops, for example, trying to figure out if someone with a gun is entitled to have it.
"It's important to note that if a person is prohibited, under federal or state laws, from possessing a firearm before this law goes into effect, that person will still be prohibited. And if a prohibited person has a firearm, he or she can be prosecuted," Holcomb said.
"Firearm permits will remain available, without a fee, to anyone who wants or needs one, such as Hoosiers desiring to carry a firearm to, through or in another state that has reciprocity with Indiana."
State Police Superintendent Doug Carter — who warned state legislators eliminating handgun carry permits will risk the lives of the more than 18,000 police officers serving Hoosiers across the state — did not resign, as some expected, after Holcomb signed permitless carry into law.
Instead, Carter pledged to do all he can to successfully implement the new statute across the Hoosier State.
"I, like Governor Holcomb, feel enormous responsibility for front-line law enforcement officers. I will work with law enforcement leaders across our state to make necessary changes to firearms enforcement as well as finding the best way to identify individuals who are not allowed to carry a firearm as defined by Indiana statute," Carter said.
To that end, Carter said the Indiana State Police will continue to encourage citizens to apply for, and maintain, a handgun permit to both assist law enforcement officers and allow the permit holder reciprocity with other states.
Under the new law, the state's existing licensing requirement to carry a handgun in public is repealed effective July 1, Hoosiers wanting a license for out-of-state reciprocity purposes can continue to get one at no cost, and firearm theft now is a level 5 felony punishable by up to six years in prison, instead of a level 6 felony.
Public carry of a handgun still is denied to convicted felons; fugitives; some non-citizens; a person convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery or criminal stalking; a person under a restraining order; a person under indictment; a person formally deemed dangerous or mentally defective; or a person dishonorably discharged from military service.
Handguns also continue to be prohibited at school buildings. In addition, businesses and homeowners retain the right to bar customers or guests from bringing a handgun onto their property.
State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the sponsor, said he believes it's wrong for Indiana to condition the constitutional right to keep and bear arms on an "incredibly burdensome" requirement that lawful gun owners get permission from the state and submit their fingerprints before carrying a handgun in public.
He said criminals, by their very nature, are not taking the time to get a carry license, so why should "Mr. and Mrs. Hoosier" have to jump through a bunch of hoops to be able to defend themselves from those criminals?
Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, echoed those sentiments in a statement issued after Holcomb signed permitless carry into law.
"By signing this bill, Gov. Holcomb has demonstrated a commitment to restoring and protecting our Second Amendment freedoms," Ouimet said. "We thank Gov. Holcomb, bill author Rep. Ben Smaltz, legislative leaders, and every lawmaker who supported this landmark legislation."
The final measure was approved 68-30 in the House and 30-20 by the Senate. The Senate vote followed some three hours of chamber debate and more than nine hours of occasionally contentious committee testimony.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, was among the bipartisan group of senators who voted against permitless carry March 8 in the marble-walled Senate chamber.
"Most of my constituents oppose this bill, parents oppose this bill and law enforcement opposes this bill. Permitless carry is dangerous for our state, especially at a time when we're working to decrease violent crime," Melton said.
Mike Schmuhl, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, declared Monday the Indiana Republican Party now owns Indiana's rising crime rates because he said Gov. Holcomb "decided to put politics ahead of protecting the safety of Hoosier families by signing permitless carry into law."
"It’s important to stress that Democrats are doing everything possible to equip our first responders with investments needed to combat crime — thanks to the American Rescue Plan — but it appears the Indiana GOP’s culture wars will now create a reality where Hoosier families will lose loved ones due to a clearly preventable problem," Schmuhl said.
Among Northwest Indiana lawmakers, the new law was backed by state Reps. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point; Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie; Hal Slager, R-Schererville; and Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; and state Sens. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores; and Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell.
Region lawmakers opposing the measure were state Reps. Mike Andrade, D-Munster; Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron; Pat Boy, D-Michigan City; Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago; Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary; Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond; Chuck Moseley, D-Portage; and Vernon Smith, D-Gary; and state Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso; Michael Griffin, D-Highland; Eddie Melton, D-Gary; Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton; and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.