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State lawmakers giving plan to eliminate handgun carry licenses another shot

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State lawmakers giving plan to eliminate handgun carry licenses another shot

State Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, center, objects Wednesday to a Republican proposal to substitute the House-approved permitless handgun carry provisions of House Bill 1077 for the existing language in Senate Bill 209. Seated with Pol are state Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, left, and Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

State lawmakers are taking another shot at enacting legislation to allow all adult Hoosiers legally entitled to own a firearm to carry a handgun in public without obtaining a state license.

House Bill 1077 was killed Feb. 24 by the Republican-controlled Senate after the House-approved "permitless carry" plan was revised by the Senate Judiciary Committee to merely make minor modifications to the existing handgun licensing process.

Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said at the time permitless carry would be back this year, and state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, on Wednesday announced his intent to delete the contents of Senate Bill 209 and replace them with House Bill 1077, exactly as it passed the House — ignoring the changes made by the Senate committee following nine hours of testimony and debate.

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That's easier said than done, however.

During the conference committee process, all proposed changes to legislation must be agreed to by a designated Republican and Democratic senator, as well as a Republican and Democratic representative.

Only then can the agreed plan advance to each chamber for final approval.

At this point, it appears unlikely the Democratic conference committee members — state Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, and state Rep. Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary — are willing to sign off on reviving House Bill 1077 without changes.

Pol, in particular, said he believes lawmakers should consider the Senate committee testimony of Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, and representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police, who said eliminating handgun carry permits will make Hoosier police officers less safe because there no longer will be an easy way to confirm a person with handgun is legally entitled to be carrying it.

"If you choose to support this bill you will not be supporting us. You will not be supporting the front-line officer," Carter said. "Shifting the burden from the individual who applied for the permit to the front-line officer is wrong on so many levels. But that's what you're doing."

Hatcher, meanwhile, has long advocated for legislation to develop better systems for licensing gun owners and tracking gun sales to reduce the prevalence of gun violence and the toll it takes on communities, particularly in Northwest Indiana.

"This proposal will put more handguns on our streets and add to the challenges many of our urban communities face in addressing violent crime," Hatcher said. "We are putting politics above public safety."

The Republican supermajorities in each chamber can use their authority to substitute amenable Republicans for the Democratic conferees in coming days if they want the House-approved permitless carry plan to advance for final votes in the House and Senate.

The measure almost is certain to again pass the House since it already was approved Jan. 11 by a 64-29 margin.

Permitless carry supporters, including state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the original sponsor, said they believe it's wrong for Indiana to condition the constitutional right to keep and bear arms on a requirement that lawful gun owners get permission from the state and submit their fingerprints to the government before carrying a handgun in public.

"This bill is all about the lawful person and trying to respect their rights," Smaltz said. "(It) seeks to level the playing field for the law-abiding Hoosier to defend themselves in public as they can at home."

The outcome in the Senate is less certain since supporting the proposal will mean defying the clearly expressed opposition of professional law enforcement officers and prosecutors across the state — a potentially tricky vote in an election year.

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Should the measure pass both the House and Senate with identical language, it then will go to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for a decision on signing the proposal into law or vetoing it.

Holcomb has not publicly declared a position on permitless carry. Though it's unlikely Holcomb's state police superintendent would have taken such a strong stance against the legislation unless Carter had an inkling his position accorded with the feelings of his boss.

In any case, it takes in Indiana only a simple majority — the same 50% plus one required to send legislation to the governor in the first place — for the General Assembly to override a gubernatorial veto and enact a measure into law notwithstanding his objections.


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