INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana school districts would be able to seek state money to provide gun training for their teachers under a bill endorsed by a legislative committee.
The measure that advanced Monday joins several other Republican-sponsored proposals backed by guns-rights supporters that are moving forward, while Democrats have complained about the GOP-dominated Legislature not considering their bills aimed at tightening gun laws.
The proposals taken up by Republicans include eliminating fees on five-year handgun licenses and providing more immunity from lawsuits to people who shoot an attacker under the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law.
The bill approved 8-2 Monday by the House Education Committee would let school districts apply for grants from the state's school safety fund toward 40-hour training programs for teachers who volunteer to be armed during school hours. The panel removed a provision in the measure to repeal the state's ban on nonpolice officers carrying guns on school property without district permission.
Jay County schools Superintendent Jeremy Gulley told the committee that the eastern Indiana district decided last year to allow selected volunteers have access to guns kept in safes, making it one of only three out of the state's nearly 300 districts allowing teachers or other non-police employees to be armed.
The Jay County district took that step because of worries over how long it could take police officers to reach schools spread out in the rural county in event of an attack, Gulley said.
School safety has gained attention around Indiana following shootings last year at a Noblesville middle school in which a boy wounded a classmate and teacher, and at a Richmond middle school where a boy shot out a door and at officers before killing himself.
Several educators and gun-control advocates urged lawmakers to do more to support mental health programs rather than encouraging more guns to be carried inside schools as a way to improve security.
"We have to do better than to suggest that a school superintendent makes a decision on should they hire the most qualified math teacher or the math teacher that will bring a gun into school?" said Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Keith Gambill, a middle school teacher in Evansville.
Republicans have pushed through numerous gun-rights friendly laws in recent years.
This year's list includes a proposal extending the state's current four-year handgun permit to five years and eliminating the $40 licensing fee. The bill would keep the current fees of up to $125 for a lifetime permit to carry a handgun in public, but the shorter-term permit could be used to exempt gun owners from having to undergo new criminal background checks when buying firearms during that period.
The Senate rejected an attempt by Democrats to amend a gun-related bill to include a state ban on bump stocks, the device used by the gunman in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people which allowed his rifles to mimic fully automatic weaponry. The proposal failed 36-13 with only four Republican senators joining Democrats in support.
Bills sponsored by Democrats this session include ones obligating gun owners to keep weapons secured away from children, requiring background checks for all gun sales and giving anyone convicted of domestic violence 72 hours to surrender their firearms.
Democratic Rep. Ragen Hatcher of Gary said the state should be doing more to assist cities with the highest levels of gun violence.
"Work with those communities, in the schools and through the police department," Hatcher said. "I think we could really reduce the amount of gun violence in the state of Indiana."
Those Democratic bills aren't expected to be considered before House and Senate deadlines next week for measures to clear committees for this year's session.
Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, chairman of the Indiana House Public Policy Committee, said he hasn't seen any consensus in favor of those proposals among legislators that merit hearing them.
"One of the most basic pieces is, 'Do you have support for this bill?'" Smaltz said. "If you don't, it's hard to move on something like that."