Constitutionalists have been fighting for decades over the meaning of the Second Amendment's famously ambiguous reference to “a well regulated Militia.” But legislators seeking guidance on whether to scrap the licensed handgun carry system will have only a few weeks to parse the Joint Committee on Judiciary and Public Policy's brief and cryptic recommendations.
The committee's final report avoided even mentioning an important issue the group had been charged with examining – the possible need for the state to help increase the number of law enforcement officers serving Indiana municipalities. Representing the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, Kendallville Police Chief Rob Wiley told the committee smaller departments such as his are experiencing difficulties with hiring and retention of officers. Kendallville was able to raise its officers' salaries through a local income tax, Wiley said, but many smaller departments could benefit from state funding assistance to help attract and keep workers now being lured away by private employers. It's to be hoped the legislature will give this issue some attention in January.
The committee's report also failed to comment on another issue it was charged with examining: proposed solutions to gun violence in Indiana, such as requiring background checks for sales at gun shows.
Thus, almost the entire report was a resounding “maybe” on the licenseless carry proposal by committee member Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. Urging its fellow lawmakers to “remove the hurdles” in the way of citizens obtaining a permit to carry a handgun, the committee recommended that:
“The General Assembly should maintain the current licensing system for individuals who desire to obtain a license for reciprocity purposes.”
Democrats on the committee objected that, taken together, those phrases imply the current licensing system should be eliminated. Committee chairman Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, argued it implied no such thing, and the phrase stayed untouched.
So now it's up to the full legislature to decide whether to abandon a system that preserves Second Amendment rights and that law enforcement officers say helps them do their jobs safely.
Lucas argues the requirements of applying for a license – including paying a fee and getting fingerprinted – are too much of a burden for law-abiding citizens.
Committee members suggested there might be other ways to eliminate those hurdles. For instance, the legislature could look for ways to streamline the fingerprinting process or reduce or eliminate the fees – $40 for a four-year license and $125 for a lifetime license. But that could mean non-gun-carriers would help bear the costs of the licensing program. And someone must propose a way to replace the $5.2 million the program is expected to bring into the Indiana State Police for ammunition and training next year.
According to a February poll bySurveyUSA, nine of 10 Hoosiers – and 84 percent of gun owners – support licensed carry. Legislators should forge past the joint committee's resounding “maybe,” reaffirm the current arrangement and add the wholly reasonable requirement that those who want to have their guns with them in public take a short course in basic firearm safety like the one Michigan requires.