Divided Senate panel OKs guns for Statehouse staffers

Indiana General Assembly staff members would be allowed to carry handguns inside the state Capitol under a bill recommended for passage on a party-line vote Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republican members favored the bill in a 6-3 vote after two Democratic senators expressed concerns about the legislation given the disparate treatment of African-Americans who carry guns.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, sponsored the bill and said legislative assistants and other General Assembly staff members sometimes are in the Statehouse late at night and should have the same rights as lawmakers to carry guns under the Capitol Rotunda. He said staffers don’t have the luxury of parking next to the Statehouse as lawmakers do, and they may face dangers walking to dark downtown parking garages at night.

“We’re living in a violent world, and it’s unfortunate we have to think upon these terms today, but as you watch the local news, you see how violent the world is,” Tomes testified in support of Senate Bill 259. “It’s necessary now for people to have an opportunity to protect themselves.”

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, challenged Tomes to identify the number of attacks on legislators or staff at the Capitol since he became a member of the Legislature. Tomes said he wasn’t aware of any, but he said crime was expected to rise in Indianapolis. “In this area, there is trouble out and about,” he said.

“As someone from a minority persuasion,” Taylor said, “if I walk in this building with a gun, I still get stopped by security, senator, it is the day and time we live in.” He said the legislation “is a scary proposition for me.”

“I know what carrying a firearm can lead to, even by a law-abiding citizen,” he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, a co-author of the bill, said that as a senator, Taylor wouldn’t go through metal detectors at the Statehouse as the public does, and he wouldn’t be subjected to a search.

But Taylor said that wasn’t his point. “If I said I had a firearm when the police stop me, it will be a totally different situation,” he said. “I’m the spitting image of, it does happen.”

Taylor also asked whether other statehouse denizens such as lawyers and lobbyists should be permitted to carry weapons in the Capitol. “It would be nice,” Tomes said. “Where’s the limit? I don’t know.”

Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, also was troubled by the bill. He said a general ban on statehouse staffers carrying firearms was adopted in the 1990s after a rash of shootings in government offices nationwide.

“There were discussions about security at the Statehouse here,” Randolph said. “Sometimes people get heated, they get mad, and an irrational person might reach for a sidearm.”

Randolph also said given police shootings of law-abiding black citizens who were carrying guns in Chicago and elsewhere around the country, he couldn’t support the bill in the current climate.

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, also voted against the bill.

Tomes also is the author of another gun-related bill, SB 36, that would remove alcohol abusers from the list of those not considered proper people to receive a permit to carry a handgun.

The bill had been scheduled to be heard by the committee Wednesday after it was continued following a contentious hearing last week, but it was withdrawn from the panel’s agenda. The proposal has not been rescheduled for a committee vote.


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