Police around the state likely were breathing a little easier Tuesday morning.
That's because controversial legislation that leaders of many Indiana law enforcement agencies argued would make them less safe died without discussion in the Senate on Monday.
House Bill 1369 would have eliminated permits to carry guns. It was an unnecessary measure groups including the Indiana State Police, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police said would leave officers without access to information about whether potentially dangerous people have access to firearms.
Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux, Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed and Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards also were against the bill, which drew widespread support among Republican members of the General Assembly. It easily passed the House on a 65-31 vote in February and had 21 Senate co-sponsors, including Sens. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and Andy Zay, R-Huntington.
The bill was authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, and co-authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.
But it wasn't the concerns of police and prosecutors that led to the bill's timely death this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The cause was reservations over finding a new way to let police know who shouldn't be carrying a gun.
Committee chair Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, said she wouldn't give the measure a hearing, but Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray took the lead in explaining why. Bray, R-Martinsville, wrote on Facebook that creating a state database designed to alert police to Indiana residents barred from owning guns because of felony convictions or mental illness was a “poison pill” that doomed the legislation.
“First, no promises were made in regard to giving this bill a hearing. At no time did I or Senator Brown guarantee anyone a committee hearing if a certain number of senators signed on as co-authors of the bill,” Bray wrote, continuing that technology and federal laws governing access to such information make crafting the database difficult.
“Law enforcement believes being able to access this information in the middle of the night during a traffic stop is important and thus, so do I,” according to the post. “The bottom line is law enforcement's ability to determine who is prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon is important and this bill does not achieve that.”
That upset some of the bill's supporters.
“Why not give the lawful good guys a break for once?” Smaltz pleaded.
Quashing House Bill 1369 provides a break to police, who now will keep access to common-sense protections such as being able to determine whether a gun might be inside a home with a barricaded suspect.
Even in defeat, the bill brought an olive branch to supporters pushing for greater Second Amendment rights. Senators agreed to eliminate a $75 fee charged to gun owners for lifetime carry permits.
Five-year permits already are free, and the cost of eliminating the lifetime permit fee will be covered in the state budget. Reciprocity licenses – permits allowing owners to carry their weapons outside the state – are free for five years or $75 for lifetime agreements. Money from permits typically goes to training for law enforcement agencies, according to a fiscal impact statement attached to the bill. Annual revenue for handgun licensing amounts to about $1.1 million, according to the fiscal note.
Doing completely away with permits would have cost at least $5.3 million, according to the statement.
Regardless of the reason, the demise of the bill is welcome.