By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
Lawmakers are considering a measure that would make Indiana the 17th state to allow individuals to carry a handgun without a license – a move opposed by many in the law enforcement community, as well as the Catholic Church.
House Bill 1369, which passed the Indiana House of Representatives 65-31 and is now awaiting action in the Senate, would repeal the law that requires a person to obtain a license to carry a handgun in Indiana. So-called “lawful carry” or “Constitutional carry” measures such as this are aimed at removing the hurdles that lawful citizens face in obtaining handgun permits, according to Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn), the bill’s author.
Smaltz and other proponents, including the National Rifle Association, argue that law-abiding citizens should not have to face undue burdens to defend themselves or otherwise exercise a right that is guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
But many law-enforcement officials caution that if passed, House Bill 1369 would make Hoosiers less safe and put police officers at greater risk. In recent testimony before the House Public Policy Committee, Lafayette Police Chief Patrick Flannelly told lawmakers that eliminating the handgun-licensing system poses an “unnecessary risk to public safety.”
Speaking on behalf of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, Flannelly said that while the organization “supports the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens,” it opposes this legislation.
“Under current law, those of us in law enforcement rely on the licensing process as a filter to prevent the carrying of handguns by applicants with criminal histories, drug addiction, mental illness and other factors,” Flannelly said. “This process acts as a screening mechanism for law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them in the first place.
“With gun violence increasing year after year with no sign of slowing, it’s hard for me to understand why we would want to strip away one of the most effective tools that we have for our officers on the streets today that help us prevent catastrophic events in our communities.”
The Indiana State Police does not publicly comment on pending legislation, according to its public information office. However, ISP Superintendent Douglas Carter testified at the same hearing on House Bill 1369, pointing out that his agency has rejected thousands of permit requests over the past several years.
“The process works,” said Carter, who recently began his ninth year representing the ISP and its nearly 1,300 state troopers.
The Indiana Catholic Conference, which serves as the public-policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana, stands in opposition to House Bill 1369. ICC Executive Director Angela Espada brings a unique perspective to the legislation as an attorney with previous experience working in the criminal-justice system.
“As a former deputy prosecutor in Marion County as well as being the past president of a not-for-profit that provided assistance to girls from challenging backgrounds, I have witnessed the destruction caused by easily obtained guns,” Espada said. “It does not have to be an either/or proposition. Society can have Second Amendment rights without putting society at greater risk by allowing people to carry a handgun without a license.”
The Catholic Church has long advocated for the prevention of gun and other violence as part of its commitment to promoting a culture of life. Last fall, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened their annual meeting by calling for legislation to curb gun violence, including banning assault weapons and requiring universal background checks.
“More than ever, the Church and all people of good will must work together to confront the pervasive culture of violence,” the bishops wrote in a recent statement. “The Church has been a consistent voice for the promotion of peace at home and around the world, and a strong advocate for the reasonable regulation of firearms. (We recognize) that recourse to self-defense is legitimate but also that guns are simply too easily accessible.”
Espada said that in considering House Bill 1369 and similar legislation, lawmakers and members of the public should “think about the responsibilities that go along with their rights.” She offers a simple analogy: the process for legally driving a motor vehicle.
“People need cars, particularly in Indiana where mass transit is not readily available. But to have and operate one you need to register the vehicle and obtain a driver’s license,” Espada said. “A handgun in the wrong hands can do as much or more damage than a car. If we license vehicles to hold people accountable, why not handguns?
“We urge everyone to contact their senators to oppose House Bill 1369, which would only make our citizens and our communities less safe.”
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.