‘Lawful carry’: Bill easily moves through House committee, but some have reservations


INDIANAPOLIS — The “lawful carry” bill for handguns was approved by the Indiana House Public Policy Committee Wednesday at the Statehouse, moving to the full House possibly as early as next week.

The vote on House Bill 1077 followed party lines, with nine Republicans voting in favor and all three Democrats voting against the measure.

HB 1077 specifies that certain persons who are not otherwise prohibited from carrying or possessing a handgun are not required to obtain or possess a license or permit from the state to carry a handgun in the state.

Last year’s bill passed the House by a vote of 65-31. However, the Senate failed to take action on the proposal before the 2021 session ended. Both versions were authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn.

House District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican, said he’s been pushing for this type of legislation for almost a decade.

“This year’s version is a much more simplified version than what was introduced last session,” the Seymour lawmaker said. “I think last year’s bill was misunderstood quite a bit because there were some parts that tried to appease certain groups. But it just muddied up the waters a bit.”

Advocates say HB 1077 offers some protections. It prohibits certain individuals from knowingly or intentionally carrying a handgun, creates the crime of “unlawful carrying of a handgun” and makes theft of a firearm a Level 5 felony.

One concern expressed in the Indiana Senate last year is that law enforcement agencies rely on fees collected through handgun licensing for training and ammunition, Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said. An estimate released early last year by state officials stated those fees could reach a collective $5.3 million during the next fiscal year.

However, many of those financial concerns were addressed last year by HB 1006, co-authored by Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus.

The bill removed all fees for conceal carry permits and provided law enforcement agencies more money than they would have received from licensing fees, Lauer said.

In addition, state lawmakers also approved $70 million to upgrade the Indiana Police Academy and provide additional funding for body cameras, the lawmaker said. Funds were also provided to better evaluate candidates for law enforcement positions “to make sure we were being fully transparent and getting the best people,” Lauer said.

Along with HB 1006, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also signed a police reform and training bill last spring that establishes a procedure allowing the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board to decertify an officer who commits misconduct. It also prohibits chokeholds under certain circumstances and criminalizes an officer turning off a body worn camera to conceal criminal behavior.

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers stressed he’s a firm advocate of Second Amendment rights, adding he does not believe in charging fees for permits or licenses. The sheriff also says a lawful permit or license issued in Indiana should be honored by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“But I don’t see anything in the U.S. Constitution that states you can’t ask a person to have a permit to carry a weapon if it doesn’t cost anything,” the sheriff said.

During last year’s debate, advocates of Smaltz’s bill repeatedly brought up the constitutional right to bear arms.

In response, State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, responded that voting is also a constitutional right, but citizens are still required to register prior to casting a ballot.

Walker says he does not believe the public has a good grasp on what the bill will or will not do. He is advising both advocates and opponents of HB 1077 to keep an eye on future amendments and changes as it moves through the Indiana General Assembly.

“I just want to see the whole issue vetted out more distinctly and more perfectly if we are going to move forward with the question,” Walker said. “The focus should be on what the actual language of the bill is, making sure what liberties are in play and what will change with this language.”

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