By the numbers
In one year, on average, 33,880 people die from gun violence. This number includes 2,647 children and teenagers.
11,564 people are murdered
21,037 die from suicide
544 are killed unintentionally
468 are killed by legal intervention
267 die but intent was unknown
Source: The Brady Campaignto Prevent Gun Violence
Many sensible arguments have been mustered against licenseless firearms carry, a reckless proposal a legislative interim committee is studying this summer.
At a hearing last week, the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Public Policy heard the dollars-and-cents case against gutting Indiana's permit system. The Indiana State Police would lose an estimated $5.2 million in licensing fees next year alone – money the department uses for firearms training and ammunition.
Money, and supposedly wasted time, are the crux of the argument against the license-to-carry system, as well. Proponents of unlicensed carry say it's unfair to make applicants pay a fee and visit the sheriff's department to be fingerprinted in order to exercise the right to bear arms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Though it would seem to undercut their constitutional-absolutes argument, advocates say licenseless carry doesn't mean people with criminal records or serious mental health issues can't still be prohibited from carrying handguns in public.
But as law-enforcement officers pointed out at an earlier committee hearing, how would an officer quickly be able to ascertain whether you're legally entitled to carry a weapon? That could add another element of uncertainty to a potentially life-or-death situation.
Police safety concerns and serious monetary issues? Defeating this proposal seems like slam-dunk. But several states already have such laws.
Perhaps responsible gun advocates could propose a better alternative.
Why not amend the gun-license law to require applicants to complete a basic course in firearms use and safety before they are given the right to carry guns in public?
The International Association of Chiefs of Police thinks that is a good idea. So does Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who headed The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for five years. The public would be safer “if we had a permitting system that required instruction on the rules, regulations and safety,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Michigan, a state where devotion to gun rights runs just as strong as it does in Indiana, has such a system. Unlike Indiana, Michigan allows citizens to carry handguns openly without a permit. But applicants for a concealed-handgun permit must have eight hours of training that includes safe handling of weapons, firearms and liability laws, and firing-range practice. Michigan also has a somewhat lower rate of firearms deaths per 100,000 people – 11.7, vs. 12.7 in Indiana, according to 2015 statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Making sure gun owners are clear on how to use their weapons safely before they take them out in public is just common sense. “Every Fourth of July,” Helmke points out, “there's someone who shoots their gun up in the air – and the bullets land somewhere,” potentially striking and wounding or killing someone. Weapons and ammunition have changed over the years, creating unexpected hazards for the untrained. The range of some handguns and bullets has increased; “if you're not aware of that, there's going to be problems somewhere down the road,” Helmke said.
Another example: There can be problems when someone who is used to a revolver switches to a semi-automatic handgun. “Somebody pulls the magazine out, they think the gun is empty,” Helmke said. But there's still a round in the chamber, which can easily lead to an accidental shooting.
Try to think of an area of public behavior that potentially affects others that society doesn't regulate to some degree. Freedom of speech? You can't shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Driving a car? “We don't just say you automatically get your driver's license when you're 16,” Helmke said.
Even the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the great champions of gun rights, was not an absolutist. Writing for the court in its often-quoted Heller decision, Scalia asserted that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
Handgun-carry licensing doesn't endanger that right. But it keeps us all safer, as would sensible safety training. Unlicensed carry does not.