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Thursday, January 31, 2019 1:00 am

General Assembly

Bill to end gun fees is revived

Would cut lifetime-carry cost

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers on Wednesday revived arguments over gun legislation that would eliminate handgun licensing fees and allow citizens to carry a firearm on church properties that house schools.

The measures died on the final night of session last year, and now are in House Bill 1643 authored by Auburn GOP Rep. Ben Smaltz. A vote will come next week.

“I don't think a citizen should have to pay to exercise a constitutional right,” said Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. “Our rights should not be dependent on how much revenue the government can make.”

The legislation would eliminate the $125 fee for a lifetime carry license starting in July 2020.

A fiscal analysis shows this would cost the state $3.2 million in revenue in fiscal year 2021. Local police get some of those fees and would lose an estimated $1.6 million in calendar year 2021 and $3.2 million each year after.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding, president of the Indiana Sheriff's Association, said he is a longtime NRA member but opposes the bill because losing the money would have a tremendous negative effect.

He said counties already don't have enough money to treat the mentally ill or house inmates and this bill would make it worse.

“We're trying to survive,” Wedding said, noting no one has complained about the license fee.

NRA state Director Chris Kopacki said, “When a fee is attached to a right, it really is no longer a right. It's a privilege.”

Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, pointed out that citizens have to pay permit fees to assemble or march despite First Amendment protections.

Indiana citizens also have to buy hunting and fishing licenses despite a constitutional amendment on the right to hunt and fish.

Indianapolis attorney Guy Relford said all those fees should be eliminated, and he would love to take a case challenging them.

“I don't care about the revenue,” he said. 

Another part of the bill would affect schools that share property with a church. Currently, parishioners can't carry guns when attending services – even if church officials say it's OK – when a school is on the property.

The legislation would allow property owners to determine whether guns are allowed. In some cases that might be the school; in others the church.

Trevor Vance, representing Everytown for Gun Safety, was neutral on the fee language and recognized the desire by some churches to better protect their congregations.

He suggested, though, additional language that would keep guns separate from school children. Vance said a person attending a Bible study with a gun, for instance, shouldn't be able to attend a school basketball game on the property with the weapon.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said he would be willing to consider language on that for amendment next week.

nkelly@jg.net