Domestic violence victim gun bill steered to study

A controversial bill that would have allowed victims of domestic violence to legally carry a gun without a permit was steered to a summer study committee Wednesday following testimony from victims and advocates on both sides of the issue.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also assigned to study committee “constitutional carry,” which essentially would permit any person without a disqualifying criminal record or condition to carry a handgun without a permit.

House Bill 1071 would allow anyone who obtains a protective order against a domestic violence abuser or stalker to carry a handgun without a permit. Proponents say the measure would allow victims the option to protect themselves outside the home without waiting for the lengthy carry permit approval process. Opponents say more guns shouldn’t be introduced into violent situations and the proposal would limit law enforcement’s ability to remove guns, further endangering victims.

Backers of the measure said they were disappointed the victim-protection measure was being assigned to study because people who would not be qualified to carry a firearm would not be exempted under the proposed law.

“I’m frustrated the state of Indiana can’t set the pace instead of taking a back seat on this,” said Tami Watson, a former Indiana State Trooper who now runs a firearms training and defense institute in Columbus, where she said the majority of her clients are women. Having been stalked in the past, she said she keeps a seat open in each class to offer free training to anyone under a protective order.

“We should all decide to unite, empower and protect our victims,” she said.

Dawn Hillyer of Fort Wayne was stalked for years by Michael McClellan, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison but released early. Before that experience, she said as a young mother of three, “Guns were not in my world, I didn’t necessarily like guns; for me, they were for police and military and bad guys.”

After receiving death threats, Hillyer recounted feeling trapped in her home and powerless because she could not carry a firearm for protection. She since has become an advocate for helping women and victims of abuse arm, train and defend themselves and has a business catering to that desire. “I will not live in fear again,” she said. “I should have the option to defend myself.”

But Laura Berry of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence said firearms are the leading cause of death in domestic violence situations and noted a recent example of a woman in northwestern Indiana who was overpowered and killed by her attacker with a gun she had obtained for her protection.
“Vigilantism isn’t the answer to our problems,” Berry said. “It’s the worst possible time to introduce guns.”

She also cautioned that the legislation could increase the number of fraudulent protective order filings and short-circuit the carry-permit application process that flags criminals and those who are restricted from possessing guns.

Chesterfield Police Chief and certified firearms instructor Williams Ingles opposed the bill because it would put law enforcement in a difficult position. Passing the bill would create loopholes for people who would normally be prohibiting from carrying them, he said, leaving law enforcement to conduct background checks to determine whether someone without a permit is carrying legally.

Separately, the measure assigns to an interim study committee the question of whether the law requiring permits to carry handguns should be repealed. Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, noted Indiana’s Constitution in Article 1, Section 32 states, “the people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the States,” which is a broader protection than the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The bill as amended would also permit the interim committee to study:

  • The rate at which guns are used in suicides and criminal acts;
  • who should be prohibited from possessing or carrying a handgun; and
  • the fiscal impact of repealing the handgun licensure law.

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