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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018 1:00 am

Lawmakers debate gun permits

Fee, firearms at church schools among issues

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer asked lawmakers Monday for more than empty assurances to replace millions in funding for police if the General Assembly eliminates a fee to obtain a handgun carry permit.

“Don't put Indiana's law enforcement in that position. Now is not the time,” he said.

Troyer reminded a small group of legislators working on gun legislation that ongoing training is important for police to be prepared for school shootings like the one recently in Florida.

It was one small part of a wide-ranging, four-hour meeting on guns Monday.

Republicans in the House and Senate are trying to strip an unrelated bill and insert several gun topics after killing the original bills to avoid voting on amendments filed.

One part of the proposed conference committee report for House Bill 1214 is to eliminate the state's four-year license to carry and instead have all permits be lifetime. Lifetime permits would also be free. The cost now is $125. 

According to a fiscal impact note, eliminating lifetime license fees would cost local units $4 million a year in revenue that goes to police for training and equipment.

The revenue loss for the state is about $6 million a year. But police will still have to conduct background checks to issue the license.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, promised to delay implementation of the fee change until July 2019 so lawmakers could provide funding in the next budget.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said it doesn't make sense to do the two things in different sessions. And he pointed out that Senate rules require anything with a significant fiscal impact to go to Appropriations Committee. That did not happen in this case.

The discussion was about more than money, though, as lawmakers on both sides of the Second Amendment debate tried to bring up examples of mass shootings that proved their points.

The proposed conference committee report also would allow churches that share property with a school to allow guns on the property. It's a felony to bring a gun on school property under current law and churches are affected if they have both.

Under the language, it would be up to a church to decide whether it wants to allow firearms or ban them. This is how it works now with other churches that don't have a school.

Barbara Maness, a church volunteer who carries a firearm, said desks offer no protection to children during shootings.

She believes if other adults could shoot back, a criminal might think twice about a mass shooting.

Troyer, though, said it “could certainly become confusing” for police responding to a shooting to know who with guns is “good” versus “bad.”

And Kendallville Police Chief Rob Wiley, who testified on the fee portion of the bill for police chiefs around the state, said his personal preference would be not to allow guns on school property while school is in session.

Kristen DiBella, a mom with a kindergartner in a Catholic school, said Indiana schools are safe and noted that a child dies every other day from accidental gunfire.

“This law gravely ignores the risks and consequences of bringing guns on school grounds,” she said.

Guy Relford, an Indiana attorney specializing in gun rights, said the bill is a “nice middle ground.” He noted it maintains the licensing process though some Republicans want to eliminate it entirely.

He said the cost is a hurdle for some to get a license and there shouldn't be a fee to exercise a constitutional right.

nkelly@jg.net