Indiana State Police leader blasts GOP on gun permit repeal

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A proposal that could ultimately repeal Indiana’s handgun permit requirement remained alive in the Legislature on Thursday despite the objections of major law enforcement groups and officials, including the head of the State Police.

The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill late Wednesday following an eight-hour meeting that ended with three GOP senators joining committee Democrats in approving an amendment that a Republican supporter said “guts the bill completely.” Supporters said they then voted in support of the measure only so that it could possibly be changed back to its original form in votes by the full Senate next week.

The committee’s action followed testimony from officers with the Evansville and Fort Wayne police departments and leaders of the state Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs association and county prosecutors association. They argued that eliminating the permit system would strip police of a screening tool for identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns.

State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, a Republican who previously served as sheriff of Hamilton County, was unusually pointed in his criticism of the Republican push to repeal the permit requirement.

“It’s often so easy to talk about your support for public safety,” Carter said. “But if you choose to support this bill, you will not be supporting us.”

Indiana currently requires people to obtain a license to carry a loaded handgun outside their own homes, businesses and cars, although people can generally carry rifles and shotguns without a permit. Twenty-one other states allow residents to carry handguns without permits.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, a Republican sponsor of the bill from Auburn, said repealing the permit requirement would mean “the law-abiding citizen is not required to go through a process of asking permission, submitting to government investigation, supplying their fingerprints to enjoy a right.”

“The criminals are not submitting themselves to these sorts of investigations because they’re criminals,” Smaltz said.

Carter blamed the “outside influence of national associations or political posturing” for pushing the permit repeal issue in the Legislature, where Republicans have better than two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

“This is the problem with the supermajority. It stifles, prohibits and oftentimes limits public debate,” Carter said. “I sure hope you choose to show deference to law enforcement professionals who understand the magnitude and the frontline effects of this legislation, rather than the possibility of getting reelected or unelected the next primary.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment about where he stands on the proposal and Carter’s remarks. Republican senators didn’t respond to Carter’s criticism during the committee meeting.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said he has great respect for Carter but defended the support of state police from Republican lawmakers, pointing to the approval of record funding for the agency and improvement projects for the state police training academy.

“We’ve worked hand in hand with the state police,” Huston said. “I understand this is an emotional topic for Superintendent Carter. Just very disappointed his comments.”

The bill that the House approved largely along party lines last month aimed to allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun except for reasons such as having a felony conviction or having a dangerous mental illness. The revision adopted by the Senate committee would keep the current permit requirement in place, while creating an automatic six-month provisional permit so that those who have submitted applications don’t have to wait perhaps weeks for granting of the final permit.

Committee Chairwoman Liz Brown of Fort Wayne was joined by Republican Sens. Mike Bohacek of Michigan City and Sue Glick of LaGrange in voting for the revised version.

The Senate didn’t take action last year on a similar bill that the House approved, but Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said last week that the chamber would take up the issue as senators were trying to balance Second Amendment rights with the concerns from police.

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