An Indiana lawmaker is pushing for changes that likely would increase the number of Hoosiers carrying firearms.
District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, introduced two bills during the opening day of the new legislative session at the Statehouse on Tuesday.
House Bill 1056 would do away with current laws requiring people to purchase a license to carry a handgun or keep one in their vehicle.
The other bill authored by Lucas, House Bill 1055, dubbed the “campus carry bill,” would make it legal for people to have firearms on state-funded property, such as public universities, schools, parks and government buildings, including the Statehouse.
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Both seemingly go against recent federal efforts by President Barack Obama to curb gun violence by making it more difficult to purchase guns through gun shows and Internet sales.
Lucas, a small-business owner and former Marine, has been a strong supporter of gun rights since being elected to state office in 2012. He is a member of and endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Although he is receiving support from many voters who want their constitutional rights to bear arms protected, there are plenty of others who said the changes would lead to increased gun-related crimes and deaths in Indiana.
By giving people the facts on gun violence and educating them on gun safety, Lucas said, the opposite is true, and the state would experience less gun-related crimes.
“So many people think that if we let (students) start carrying guns to school or anybody for that matter, that it will turn into the Wild West, and that’s just not the case,” he said. “There are seven or eight states now that allow campus carry, and we aren’t seeing those kind of shootouts there that everyone is imagining.”
Lucas and Seymour Republican Nancy Franke, who is pursuing the District 69 seat, both made trips to Indianapolis on Wednesday to file declarations of candidacies. They are the only candidates who had filed as of Thursday afternoon.
Franke said she understands the desires of some of the people in the district and Lucas in regards to maintaining the liberties of law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutionally protected right.
“I, too, believe we need to protect our Second Amendment rights,” Franke said. “Indiana already has lax gun regulations, and I believe our current system is working. I would continue supporting proposals allowing responsible law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms legally in Indiana. This is clearly confirmed in our Constitution. However, we need to be certain safeguards are in place for those who should not be bearing arms — particularly those with mental health problems or who have a history of domestic abuse.”
Another aspect which has not been discussed by any person involved in this important discussion is the reality of the economic impact HB 1056 would have on the state, said Franke.
“We know the license registrations in Indiana have risen exponentially over the past few years,” she said. “This means millions and millions of dollars coming in as income for our state. I cannot imagine lawmakers who are concerned about the state budget will willingly give up this type of income without an alternative to supplement.”
Lucas said he simply wants people to be able to defend themselves and for anyone lawfully able to carry a firearm to not be prohibited from doing so.People with domestic violence convictions or who have been committed to a mental institution would remain unable to legally carry a handgun, Lucas said.“If you are a felon and carrying a gun, then you are doing so illegally, and you wouldn’t have a license in the first place,” he said. “This legislation does not apply to those people.”
His proposals come as Indianapolis and other areas respond to a record number of homicides in 2015 and a sharp increase in the number of shootings.
Lucas said gun carry permits have no impact on crime and would not have prevented those murders because the vast majority of those who committed them didn’t have a license to carry.
The facts about responsible gun ownership speak for themselves, though, he said.
“Gun homicides are down by over 50 percent in this country in the last 20 years, and yet gun sales have exploded over the last 10 years,” he said. “There are significantly more guns out there, and yet fewer people are being killed by guns.”
‘People were panicking’
Tammie Craig-Niewedde of Brownstown said making it easier to carry a gun is not a logical solution to the problem of mass shootings and gun violence or a good idea.As a student at Indiana University Southeast, she has been involved in two lockdown situations on campus in three years because of gun scares, she said.“If people had been armed on campus, some innocent person, maybe just someone opening a door to tell us all was clear, would have been shot,” she said. “People were panicking. Scared, panicking people with little to no firearm education have no business carrying a gun to a campus, especially if licensing is no longer required.”
She added, “If he (Lucas) pushes this through, he is knowingly endangering the lives of Hoosiers.”
Many college officials, including at Indiana University and Purdue University, feel there is no need for guns on their campuses.
Currently, Purdue imposes a “longstanding policy that prohibits weapons on campus,” university police Chief John Cox said in an article Tuesday in the (Lafayette) Courier and Journal. He said allowing guns on campus causes more problems than it solves.
“We firmly believe that encouraging our campus community to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and reporting suspicious activities to the proper authorities will do more to enhance campus safety than would permitting the wide-scale carrying of weapons,” he said.
The bill comes weeks before the two-year anniversary of the Purdue shooting that claimed the life of student Andrew Boldt, who was killed by classmate Cody Cousins on Jan. 21, 2014, in the basement of the Electrical Engineering Building. Cousins was sentenced Sept. 19, 2014, to 65 years in prison but was found dead in his prison cell Oct. 28, 2014.
“Our primary concern is that a change to (Purdue’s) policy could negatively impact the dynamics of our campus community and complicate the ability of police and other emergency personnel that would respond to situations in which multiple people could be armed,” Cox said.
Mark Land, a spokesman for Indiana University, said the school has “consistently opposed efforts to allow individuals to carry guns on our campuses.”“In our view, to allow the introduction of guns on our campuses would unnecessarily increase the risk to our students, employees and guests,” he said in an article in The Indianapolis Star.Mark Hopkins, owner of Bite the Bullet, a downtown Seymour gun store, said Lucas’ proposals are more in line with the U.S. Constitution and should make people feel safer.
“I firmly believe that our rights are given to us by God, and the Constitution upholds those rights,” he said. “The Constitution doesn’t restrict where you can carry.”
Hopkins said he always carries a gun unless it is prohibited by law because it gives him the chance to protect himself, family and others in a dangerous situation.
“Shooters with ill intent are cowards,” he said. “They target gun-free zones because people won’t fight back. Someone once said, though I forget who, ‘An armed society is a polite society.’”
Lucas said the proposals are intended to keep people who are lawfully entitled to own and carry a firearm from having to jump through “unnecessary hoops.”
Those burdens include having to wait several months and pay up to $125 to be issued a license to carry a gun.
“You have the right to keep and bear arms. You shouldn’t have to pay money to exercise a right,” he said.
He also believes gun owners who take a gun class should receive some kind of a tax credit for doing so, although he doesn’t think mandatory training should be required.
“Why are we making individuals prove their innocence to exercise their constitutional rights?” Lucas asked. “These bills would be decriminalizing lawful carry.”
‘Firearms aren’t the problem’
Joe Hardesty, owner of Acme Sports Inc. in Seymour, said people who are against the proposals should focus their efforts more on getting illegal firearms off the streets.“A lot of people think it’s going to open a can of worms, but it’s not,” he said. “The same people that owned guns before are going to have them now. Criminals will still find a way to get guns.“Why don’t they enforce and add manpower to get the illegal guns off the street instead of making extra laws getting on people that have already been checked?” he added. “The people that do commit crimes with guns should see stiffer prison sentences with no ability of parole.”
Michael Biehle, co-owner of Accuracy Unlimited, a new firearms and archery shop and shooting range in Seymour, said he firmly believes people should have the right to carry a firearm anywhere. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to carry, though, he added.
“Not everyone’s comfortable carrying a firearm, but if you are, you should have the right to,” he said. “If you have a permit to carry, then you should have the right to carry in the schools because if you’ve passed the background check and are clean of a criminal record, then you have proven that you are carrying with good intent.”
Biehle said by limiting gun ownership and rights, lawmakers are doing the opposite of their intentions and are actually giving people more reason to go out and buy a gun.
“When people start cracking down, it usually boosts sales,” he said. “I mean, that’s just the truth. People want to buy when they fear having that right taken away. They want to do it while they still can.”
The increase in gun sales and participation in gun safety classes in Indiana and across the country is a good sign, Lucas said, that supports his proposed legislation.
“Average, everyday Hoosiers are waking up to the fact that firearms aren’t the problem,” he said. “They are realizing that they are the first and best means of self-defense.”
Tribune reporter Aaron Piper contributed to this article.