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Gun bill to close gap in ‘red flag law’ passes Senate committee

April 4, 2019

A bill that would allow Indiana law enforcement to prevent people who are deemed dangerous from purchasing a firearm pursuant to the state’s “red flag law” passed after an hours-long committee hearing Wednesday.

House Bill 1651 was authored in response to the fatal saying of Indianapolis police officer Jake Laird, who was shot and killed by a mentally ill man in 2004. The suspect, killed by officers on the scene, randomly opened fire in an Indianapolis neighborhood several months after his release from a hospital for emergency detention.

Although IMPD had confiscated the man’s guns prior to his release, the firearms were returned upon his request because no law existed at the time for authorities to legally retain them.

Thus, Indiana enacted Jake Laird’s Law in 2005, commonly known as the “red flag law,” which enables law enforcement to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed statutorily “dangerous.”

HB 1651 would seal some gaps in the law, according to Rep. Donna Schaibley, R- Carmel. The representative said she authored the bill in response to a request from Indiana State Police, who were informed by the FBI after last year’s Parkland, Florida school shooting that they needed explicit permission under Indiana law to submit names of “dangerous” individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

HB 1651 then, would allow for the names to be submitted to NICS for background checks in the event that a “dangerous” person attempts to buy another firearm. If, for example, a “dangerous” person sought to purchase a gun one day after having their firearms confiscated, they would be flagged as prohibited from buying another weapon.

The bill would also strengthen due process and clarify vague language in the definition of a dangerous individual, replacing “emotionally unstable” with “suicidal.”

An additional component in the legislation regarding the grant of confiscated guns to a responsible third party for safekeeping caused major concern for committee member Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

Taylor argued that giving a dangerous individual’s guns to a responsible third party would just provide more access for the firearms to be returned to them.

But Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said it would not provide more access, adding that if a responsible third party returned an individual’s firearms, they could be charged with a Level 5 felony for transferring a weapon.

I don’t doubt that the responsible third party having that gun is better than the individual who is deemed to be suicidal,” Taylor said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that having the firearm locked in a safe in a police station is a lot safer for everybody than it would be with a responsible third party.”

But Debbie Laird, mother of the officer for whom the law at question was created, testified that the bill is about creating safeguards for Hoosiers families.

“We are wanting to protect people from individuals who are suffering from mental illness and are a threat to the community,” Laird said. “The actions of these dangerous people can have a lifetime of consequences for the innocent victims.”

Several others testified in favor of the bill, including Second Amendment attorney Guy Relford, who said he recognizes the need to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who have been found dangerous by clear and convincing evidence.

The bill, which included several amendments, passed the Senate Judiciary committee 5-3 and will be recommitted to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.

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