Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards didn't have to think long to explain why she opposes House Bill 1369, legislation to eliminate handgun licensing.
“This morning is the perfect example,” she said Tuesday, referring to a deadly shooting at a Fort Wayne motel. “With the number of homicides we have, unlicensing handguns is a bad idea all the way around.”
Paul Helmke, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed.
“Indiana already does too little to keep loaded guns out of public places and out of the hands of dangerous people. This bill would make us all less safe,” the former Republican mayor wrote in an email.
No license is required to buy a firearm in Indiana, but one is required for open or concealed carry. Individuals with a conviction for a felony or misdemeanor domestic battery are ineligible, and a license can also be denied in other prescribed situations.
HB 1396 is one of four so-called “constitutional carry” bills proposed by the Republican supermajority, but this one is authored by Auburn Republican Ben Smaltz and co-authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, two powerful members of the House majority. Smaltz is chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, where his bill is assigned and was scheduled to be heard Wednesday. Ironically, the session was canceled over concerns for violence spilling over from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The prosecutor noted the violence in Washington, and pointed to the state's record.
“I think for a number of reasons, it's a really bad idea,” Richards said. “Given the crime rate in this state, I don't think making it harder for us to prosecute cases and easier for people to carry a handgun is probably a good idea.”
She said current law works well in allowing law enforcement to revoke licenses when necessary – in cases involving mental health issues, for example – and to prosecute cases where violations occur.
“Under this new legislation it would be virtually impossible at the scene to determine if someone had the requisite issues or convictions to prevent them from having a handgun,” Richards said.
Helmke, now a professor of practice at O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, said the bill places more Hoosiers at risk.
“Not only does this proposal make it easier for 'dangerous' people to carry loaded guns in public, but it means more chances of 'good' people misusing or losing their loaded guns, or having their loaded guns taken from them by others,” he wrote. “Indiana doesn't require people carrying loaded guns to know our gun laws, gun safety, or even how to shoot a gun, but would now be encouraging even more people to carry these dangerous weapons in public.”
Helmke also pointed to the additional risk placed on police officers, who would have to presume someone carrying a loaded gun is doing so legally.
House Minority Leader Phil Gia-Quinta, D-Fort Wayne, noted the cost of the bill, which would eliminate licensing fees used to support firearms training. The Legislative Services Agency estimates Smaltz's bill would cost local law enforcement $8.5 million in licensing fees over the next three years.
“I oppose any legislation that would make it easier for convicted criminals and the mentally ill to obtain firearms,” GiaQuinta said. “In addition to my concerns about public safety, I'm also concerned about Indiana's law enforcement agencies, who rely on permit fees to keep our communities safe.”
But GiaQuinta's vote can't stop the supermajority from taking a dangerous step backward. Smaltz, Lehman and their Republican colleagues need to hear from their constituents that more people carrying guns does not make Indiana safer.