Lawmakers table easing access to gun permits for alcohol abusers

Dave Stafford
January 14, 2016
Confusion over whether alcohol abusers are considered proper people to receive permits to carry handguns caused a Senate panel to delay action on a bill that would erase such language from state law.

Confusion over whether alcohol abusers are considered proper people to receive permits to carry handguns caused a Senate panel to delay action on a bill that would erase such language from state law.

During a sometimes-contentious hearing, several lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee insisted Wednesday that even though statutes define alcohol abusers as not proper people to receive a permit to carry a handgun, that language doesn’t currently bar alcohol abusers from receiving carry permits.  

Advocates wearing T-shirts in support of groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America turned out to oppose the introduction of Sen. Jim Tomes’ legislation, Senate Bill 36, that would remove the alcohol abuser language from I.C. sections 35-31.5-2-14 and 35-47-1-2. In a statement, the groups called the bill “absurd.”

Tomes, R-Wadesville, said there were “misconceptions” about the bill that he said merely sought to remove from the books language that he and other lawmakers said Indiana State Police are confused about. Several lawmakers said there’s nothing currently barring misdemeanor alcohol abusers from receiving carry permits with some calling the provisions meaningless, but witnesses who oppose the bill argued the language is in the statute for a reason.

“It just doesn’t make sense” why the language is in the statute, Tomes said, noting ISP applications for gun permits don’t ask whether someone is an alcohol abuser but rather ask applicants if they have been convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated – language he also said should have no bearing on the right to a carry permit, unless the conviction is a felony. No ISP representative spoke on the issue at Wednesday’s hearing.

The law currently defines who is a “proper person” to receive a carry permit along with several factors that would disqualify him or her. One of those is an “alcohol abuser,” defined as someone with two or more alcohol-related offenses, any of which resulted in conviction or treatment within the past three years.

Tomes said enforcing the provision could trip up good people who seek a carry permit but have made a couple of mistakes in their lives.

But opponents said the provision was a reasonable restriction on firearms rights alongside many others, and there was a legislative intent to look beyond felony convictions by including restrictions on alcohol abusers.

Kathy Williams of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence told senators that law enforcement officials report up to 80 percent of domestic violence runs involve alcohol. Nationally, of the roughly 1,000 women killed each year by intimate partners, she said 70 percent of those deaths involved handguns.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Jody Madeira said lawmakers put the language in the statute for a reason and said people who are alcohol abusers have forfeited their right to a carry permit. Such people “cannot be categorized as law-abiding and responsible,” she said.

Madeira asked for further study before a vote. When several people applauded her opposition to the bill, Sen. Michael Young, R- Indianapolis, told people in the audience, “We don’t do that in here.”

Young and Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, were among senators who said the language has no effect in prohibiting someone from obtaining a license to carry a firearm.

But Steele postponed action on the bill after another professor pointed out that perhaps the language does mean something.

Basia Andraka-Christou, a lawyer and professor of health administration at Indiana Wesleyan University, said in addition to those affected by Tomes’ bill, I.C. 35-47-2-3 sets out the procedure of approving an application to carry a handgun, which includes a determination of whether the applicant is a “proper person.”

Several lawmakers muttered among themselves, “she’s right” after cross-referencing. Afterward, Steele announced that consideration of the bill would be postponed until the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 130 of the Statehouse.