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End may be near for Indiana's licensing requirement to carry handgun in public

State Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, presides Monday over a legislative study committee that recommended the 2018 Indiana General Assembly "should remove hurdles" that restrict gun rights, opening the door for the possible elimination of handgun carry permits.

INDIANAPOLIS — The General Assembly next year is likely to consider legislation to eliminate Indiana's licensing requirement for carrying a handgun in public.

A legislative study committee on Monday recommended state lawmakers "should remove hurdles" that limit the ability of Hoosiers to exercise their constitutional rights relating to firearms.

The Joint Committee on Judiciary and Public Policy did not specifically call for ending handgun carry licenses. In fact, it urged the current license system be maintained for individuals who want a reciprocal license to carry in states that require licensing.

But state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, the driving force at the Statehouse for what he calls "constitutional carry," said in line with the committee's recommendation he will propose in January that Indiana only provide reciprocal licenses, and law-abiding Hoosiers no longer would need a license to possess a handgun, openly or concealed, in public places.

"That's their constitutional right," Lucas said. "Why would we want to put the burden of proof on the shoulders of the innocent? That should be on the prohibited people."

Lucas explained that convicted felons, domestic abusers and others disallowed from owning or possessing firearms still would face the same restrictions under his proposal.

He said he simply wants to eliminate licensing for those legally entitled to own a handgun and who wish to carry it in public.

"There is an innocent class and a prohibited class," he said. "If those people who are prohibited from carrying a handgun take it upon themselves to carry a handgun, they will still be breaking the law."

The chairman of the Republican-controlled study committee, state Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, emphasized that the panel's recommendation, approved 15-5 on a party-line vote, was general in nature and not encouraging a particular course of action.

For example, he said the committee's suggestion that lawmakers "should remove hurdles" relating to gun rights could mean eliminating licensing fees or the fingerprinting requirement but keeping the handgun carry licensing system.

However, when state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, urged Bray to revise the report to make it clear that the panel believed Indiana should maintain handgun carry licensing, he declined to do so.

"I think in the face of such compelling testimony from law enforcement, prosecutors and others, who are the ones who have to enforce this, we pretty much just ignored their recommendations," Austin said.

Representatives of the Indiana State Police Alliance, Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Indiana Sheriffs Association previously told the committee that their members believe repealing Indiana's handgun carry license statute will impair officer safety.

State police data show 134,290 handgun carry permits were issued in 2016, and 4,802 carry permit applications were rejected.

Altogether, 776,379 Hoosiers are licensed to carry a handgun in public.

Thirteen other states allow their residents and visitors to carry handguns in public without any kind of license or permit.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.