The Journal Gazette
Thursday, February 07, 2019 1:00 am


Shot worth taking

Compromise offers path foward on gun laws

Somewhere along the way, Americans began to reject the idea that “thoughts and prayers” were the only answer to senseless gun violence.

A shooting in a Noblesville middle school last May brought Hoosiers face to face with the horror of random gun violence, though thankfully the teacher and student shot by a 13-year-old that day both survived.

It's a fair guess few Hoosiers favor repeal of the Second Amendment. But no one wants our children to live in fear, either.

There are even signs the Indiana legislature could transcend its laser-focus on firearm rights and join the effort to find sensible solutions to gun dangers that everybody can live with.

Tuesday, some 200 volunteers went to the Statehouse to ask legislators to support gun-safety bills. Rachel Guglielmo, leader of Moms Demand Action Indiana, which organizes the annual event, said this was its largest turnout.

One measure the citizens lobbied for was House Bill 1651, a bipartisan measure that would expand Indiana's widely noted “red-flag” law. Written by Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, and co-authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, and Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, the bill builds on a 2006 measure allowing authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed to be a danger. Another is HB 1040, written by Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, which would require gun owners to secure firearms in their homes to prevent children from getting access to them.

Moms Demand Action also planned to oppose a measure that would have carelessly widened Indiana's “stand your ground” bill, which protects citizens from criminal prosecution for the use of justified force in self-defense. But that measure, thankfully, has already been modified, and the way Republican and Democratic lawmakers got there could suggest a path forward for other potentially divisive measures.

Introduced by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, HB 1284 addressed a situation anyone could see was unjust.

One day in October 2017, an Indiana conservation officer stopped a driver in front of the home of Kystie Phillips near the southern Indiana community of Rising Sun. Watching from her window, Phillips saw suspect Justin Holland getting the better of the officer in a struggle and reaching for the officer's gun. Phillips grabbed her own gun, went outside and fatally shot Holland, who it was later determined had been high on meth and marijuana when he attacked the officer.

Credited with saving the officer's life, Phillips was hailed as a hero and authorities quickly cleared her of any legal wrongdoing.

But as Phillips recounted in emotional testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Holland's survivors filed suit against her, initiating a costly and distressing legal battle that ended when the lawsuit was dropped Friday. HB 1284 would protect those whose use of force to defend themselves or others is legally justified: Judges could summarily dismiss such suits after a special hearing.

Phillips' story might have carried the day. But there was a problem, as Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, pointed out during the hearing. The bill granted someone who justifiably intervened blanket immunity from lawsuits by others who might have been injured during a shootout, including innocent bystanders. Someone might injure or kill a child by recklessly shooting at a robber in a store, for instance, and the child's family would have no ability to make a claim in court.

Monday, after days of discussion, the Judiciary Committee passed an amendment narrowing the immunity provisions only to lawsuits brought on behalf of criminals or their survivors.

Dvorak said Tuesday that solution came after several days of constructive discussions between critics and backers of the bill. Dvorak said he still doesn't believe the bill's pretrial hearing provision is necessary, but now HB 1284 is focused on the problem it was trying to solve.

“I think it's a success story,” he said.

Maybe there can be more success stories that bridge the once impossible-to-cross chasms on gun issues this session.

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