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Study committee to begin constitutional carry discussions Tuesday

August 21, 2017

Indiana lawmakers will return to the Statehouse Tuesday for the first of three discussions about one of the most controversial issues being considered by a summer study committee this year – constitutional carry, or the belief that a person should be able to carry a handgun without a license.

The Joint Committee on Judiciary and Public Policy will begin hearing testimony about the controversial legislation at 10 a.m. in the House chambers at the Indiana Statehouse. This year marks the first time in known memory that constitutional carry has been heard by a study committee, a fact that Republican Rep. Jim Lucas, who has introduced and championed the legislation, takes a good sign.

“The time has finally come in Indiana, and I look forward to having this discussion,” Lucas said. “This is not going away as long as I’m up there (in the General Assembly).”

The Seymour Republican’s repeated attempts at passing a constitutional carry bill through the Legislature have failed in recent years due, in part, to concerns among interest groups, such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which have expressed concerns about the legislation leading to an increase in gun violence. But Lucas has repeatedly dismissed those concerns as misunderstandings, insisting instead that any person currently prohibited from carrying a handgun would still be prohibited from doing so under constitutional carry.

The only thing that would change under constitutional carry would be the requirements for fingerprinting and other screenings prior to obtaining a license to carry, Lucas said. Such screening requirements would remain in place for the process of purchasing the gun, he said.

Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, who chairs the joint committee, said he understands constitutional carry is a hot-button issue that is likely to yield passionate testimony from interest groups on both sides. Lawmakers are likewise sharply divided on the issue of whether permits should be required to carry handguns, but Bray said he expects discussions in the committee meetings will remain civil.

“My goal is to give this a full vetting and to allow both sides to testify on it,” he said.

Guy Relford, an Indianapolis Second Amendment attorney who plans to testify in favor of constitutional carry at Tuesday’s meeting, agreed with Lucas that most of the fears about the legislation are rooted in misunderstandings. Relford pointed specifically to concerns about law enforcement’s ability to identify whether a person is armed if they are not required to have a registered license. But from Relford’s perspective, licenses only indicate when a law-abiding citizen has a handgun, while criminals will carry a handgun regardless of whether they have a license.

Further, in the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision in Thomas Pinner v. State of Indiana, the high court held that officers cannot approach a person and ask to see their license to carry a handgun without reasonable suspicion. That decision takes away officers’ arguments that constitutional carry would inhibit their ability to investigate whether a person is illegally armed, Relford said.  

“This is not a case where, through independent investigation or personal experience, the officers had reason to believe that Pinner’s possession of a weapon was in violation of Indiana law,” now-retired Justice Robert Rucker wrote in the May opinion. “In essence, other than the taxi driver’s claims of being fearful because he had seen an individual matching Pinner’s description ‘drop a handgun,’ there is no evidence in the record from which an inference of criminal activity can be drawn.”

However, Relford conceded that concerns about a loss of law enforcement revenue due to a loss of the license filing fee are legitimate. Bray also acknowledged those concerns and said the committee will get into the “nuts and bolts” of constitutional carry, including discussions about the budgetary impact of doing away with the licensing fee.

Tuesday’s committee agenda includes discussion of the fiscal impacts of constitutional carry, as well as discussions about reciprocity licenses and persons who should be prohibited from possessing or carrying a handgun. The full agenda is available here.

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