By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
State lawmakers are again considering a measure that would allow individuals to carry a handgun without a license – a move opposed by the Indiana Catholic Conference, many in the law enforcement community and a coalition of other allies.
House Bill 1077, which passed the House public policy committee Jan. 5 by a 9-3 vote and was awaiting action by the full Indiana House of Representatives at press time, 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. The office of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita also supports the bill, which would make Indiana the 22nd state in the country to pass this type of legislation.
But the ICC – the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana – challenges the notion that the licensing process poses a heavy burden on individuals. Moreover, during the lengthy Jan. 5 committee hearing on the bill that included testimony from 25 individuals on both sides of the issue, ICC Executive Director Angela Espada stated that, for the Church, protecting human life is always the overarching concern.
“The Catholic Church opposes this bill because we respect the dignity of life,” Espada told lawmakers during the meeting of the House public policy committee, which Rep. Smaltz chairs. “In states that don’t have the combination of background checks with a license, firearm homicides and suicides go up.”
Espada, an attorney and former deputy prosecutor in Marion County, pointed to research by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy. According to the institute, after Missouri repealed its licensing law, the state saw a 25 percent increase in firearm homicide and a 16 percent increase in gun suicide. By contrast, when Connecticut implemented a licensing law, the state’s firearm homicide rate declined 40 percent.
Many in the law-enforcement community view the licensing process as a screening mechanism to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. During the Jan. 5 hearing, the Indiana State Police was among the organizations standing opposed to House Bill 1077.
“We have a system that works,” said Major Rob Simpson, deputy chief of staff for the agency. He added that in just the last two years, more than 10,000 applications for handgun permits have been rejected statewide for a multitude of reasons.
Jennifer Haan, who leads the Indiana chapter of the national advocacy group Moms Demand Action and is a practicing Catholic, brought a unique perspective to the committee hearing.
“I have a license to carry a handgun in the state of Indiana, and I oppose House Bill 1077,” Haan said. “Indiana has the bare minimum requirement to obtain a license to carry a handgun. It is an online form that takes less time to fill out than it did for me to enroll my child in kindergarten.”
When growing up on the east side of Indianapolis, Haan said that gun violence was always in the back of her mind. After leaving a teaching career to become a stay-at-home mother, two national events led to her involvement with Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization fighting for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence.
Haan vividly recalls icing the cake for her son’s first birthday on Dec. 14, 2012, when news broke about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. On Valentine’s Day 2018, Haan again watched in disbelief as a similar scene unfolded in Parkland, Fla.
“When I saw the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School begging the adults to step up and do something, that was my call to action,” said Haan, a mother of two and member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana.
“For me, this is a pro-life issue,” Haan said. “We have to protect our children.”
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. Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have called 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.”
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.