Bill repealing handgun permit requirement awaits decision from Holcomb

A highly contested bill that would allow Hoosiers to carry a handgun in public without a permit is headed to the governor’s desk for final consideration after Republican lawmakers successfully revived the measure in spite of criticism from law enforcement and other stakeholders.

State legislators approved the repeal of Indiana’s law that requires a person to obtain a license to carry a handgun on Tuesday after it initially stalled last week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted a revision on Feb. 23, following hours of testimony, to keep the permit requirement in place, but a subsequent House-Senate conference committee uprooted all efforts to halt the bill.

During a March 2 conference committee meeting, Republicans from both chambers agreed to substitute the earlier House-passed version of the measure into an unrelated bill.

They ultimately settled on House Bill 1296, which now provides that anyone age 18 or older may carry a handgun in public except if they have a felony conviction, are facing a restraining order from a court or have a dangerous mental illness.

The measure also makes unlawful carry a Level 5 felony if the person has been convicted of a felony within 15 years or has certain gun-related offenses.

Senators on Tuesday approved the bill 30-20 after House members earlier voted 69-30. Several Republican legislators crossed party lines to vote against the bill, including Sens. Eric Bassler, Vaneta Becker, Liz Brown, Ed Charbonneau, Michael Crider, Sue Glick, Greg Walker, Kyle Walker and Chip Perfect.

Brown expressed her distaste for the permit repeal measure, stating that it was “obvious that the bill wasn’t about constitutional rights.”

“It’s actually not even really about guns anymore. It’s a false premise who’s trying to define who’s a conservative and who’s not. Which is unfortunate,” she said.

Brown added that there would be serious consequences if the measure becomes law and said she was bothered that testimony from law enforcement has been ignored.

Glick, in deciding where she would land on the bill, said she spoke with police officers in her district. She said the officers “overwhelmingly” opposed open carry.

“This isn’t something like a shiny new car. This is a deadly weapon that can turn an argument or an honest dispute into a deadly situation,” Glick said.

Additional opponents to the measure include Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

However, proponents have consistently maintained that the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police background checks that can take weeks.

Bill sponsor Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, said the measure is meant for the “lawful Hoosier” who hasn’t done anything wrong and doesn’t want to be fingerprinted to obtain a handgun permit.

Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who presented the bill before the Senate on Tuesday, said law-abiding citizens should be allowed to carry firearm for self-defense without first having to obtain government permission.

“Criminals already carry firearms without regard for the law,” Koch said. “Lawful carry simply puts the law-abiding on equal footing.”

In response to the measure’s late-night passage, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears released a statement Wednesday saying the legislation “simply is bad policy that represents a significant step backward” in the fight against violent crime.

“The requirement of a carry permit is a critical component in investigating and prosecuting violent crimes. And it is disheartening that the Indiana General Assembly has been determined to push this bill forward, despite the volumes of testimony against it,” Mears said in a statement.

The Indiana chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, called for Holcomb to veto the bill.

“It is shameful and frustrating that our lawmakers are using a legislative loophole to overrule the wishes of law enforcement, sneak through permitless carry, and avoid hearing the vocal concerns of the people whose job it is to protect our communities,” said Heather Hilbert, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Indiana.

Once the bill lands on Holcomb’s desk, he will have seven days to sign the measure, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.

Holcomb hasn’t indicated whether he supports the concept of not requiring handgun permits, saying last week he would give the bill “careful thought.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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