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Lawmakers debate eliminating gun permits in Indiana

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Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 18:26:30-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers are looking to remove the need for a permit to carry a handgun in Indiana. This is an issue that’s been debated before at the Statehouse.

With many people and differing opinions on either side, WRTV wanted to explore what this legislation would look like and what this could mean for you if Indiana becomes a permit-less carry state.

Both Falisha Walker and DeAndra Dycus know the pain and sorrow a single bullet can cause. Walker’s 24-year-old son William was shot and killed outside an Indianapolis club in 2019. Dycus’ son DeAndre was just 13 years old when he was critically wounded at a birthday party, after a stray bullet flew through the window.

“My son’s a nonverbal quadriplegic who requires 24-hour care and has been that way for seven years now,” Dycus said. Grace Liegibel and Peter Shockley also know the pain, losing their 24-year-old brother just months ago.

“Our brother Jack was killed this past August,” Liegibel said.

“I think I’m still processing the different stages of grief,” Shockley said. “Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s sadness, sometimes it’s numbness, sometimes I cry all day, sometimes I can’t cry even if I try to.”

Their brother Jack was eating breakfast before work, when someone pulled up next to him and shot him while sitting in his car.

“Gun violence affects all of us. It can happen to anyone,” Liegibel said.

“For you to think that this bill to be passed is OK, it’s ludicrous,” Walker said.

As Indianapolis’ homicide rates continue to climb — 2020 being the deadliest year on record – lawmakers move to eliminate a gun licensing requirement.

“I feel like it’s tone-deaf,” Dycus said.

“It’s going to be more mothers and families feeling like we feel. It’s already a lot of families feeling like we feel,” Walker said. “But can you imagine? It’s going to be awful.”

“All we’re talking about is the lawful Hoosier being able to carry a handgun without going through the burdensome process of getting a permit,” Rep. Ben Smaltz said.

Smaltz authored the bill that’s already been passed in the House and is now under review in the Senate. Currently, to obtain a gun license, you have to apply online, schedule an appointment to have your fingerprints taken, and complete law enforcement agency processing within 180 days. There is no fee for a five-year gun license, but a $125 dollar fee for a lifetime license.

“What we heard was people oftentimes have to take time off work or travel great distances,” Smaltz said. “My mother is 78. She just started going through the process and her round-trip for fingerprints was 70 miles. So it just creates burdens that the bad guy doesn’t have to deal with.”

“If I need a gun to protect myself because I’ve got a stalker or because of an immediate circumstance, well I pay for that license, two-three months later I might get that. But I need it now because my need is now,” said Mark Welter, Indy Arms Co. retail manager. “So again, removing that wait in addition to removing the fee, I don’t see it as anything but a good thing.”

“I’m not against the Second Amendment at all,” Dycus said. “I am for responsible gun ownership. So if you’re responsible and you’re going to carry a gun for all the right reasons, then why not go through the process of getting a permit?”

In 2020, nearly 122,000 people did just that. That’s twice as many in 2019. Where normally, Indiana approves about 14-16,000 people for gun licenses each yearly quarter, from June-September of last year, that number jumped to nearly 45,000.

“These are people who never thought about getting a gun to protect themselves before that are now doing so,” Welter said.

And it’s not just more people becoming first-time gun owners, but people buying more guns, as well. What Indy Arms would normally sell in a month, they now sell in a week.

“The demand is huge and that started last spring with Covid and then we had a period of civil unrest and then we had an election,” Welter said. “All of those things traditionally are a spike in demand in our industry. So having all three at the same time, it was a perfect storm.”

“It’s an officer safety issue when there’s not going to be anyone around to tell someone that they’re ineligible to carry a firearm under this proposal,” said William Owensby, the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police president.

The Indiana State Police Superintendent, Doug Carter, testified against the bill. Like the superintendent, the State Fraternal Order of Police president worries anyone will now assume they can carry a firearm and may have a domestic violence conviction or documented mental health issue, and the system won’t be in place to stop them from legally carrying.

According to state police statistics WRTV gathered, 5,131 people were denied a gun permit last year. Nearly 4,000 were denied in 2019.

“Our officers face daily increasing dangers dealing with people day in and day out,” Owensby said. “We need all the officer safety safeguards that we can get.”

However, not all law enforcement necessarily feels this way.

“We had sheriffs like Sheriff Quakenbush just north of Indianapolis, we had a retired state police officers who worked undercover, we had sheriffs and chief deputies,” Smaltz pointed out. “I’ve been getting phone calls from the rank and file across the state. They are telling me that they support what we’re trying to do.”

A clearly widely debated issue, opponents remain steadfast.

“Until these lawmakers, bill writers, know what we go through, of course, you’re going to push your pen and sign a bill,” Walker said. “Until you have to go to the graveyard or go to a scene and see your child laying on the ground for 6.5 hours or see your brother sitting in a car or your child on life-support, you don’t know what it is to see what we feel.”

Just as Dycus promised her son, when he was fighting for his life seven years ago, “I said, 'Dre, if you just pull through, mama will be your voice,'” Walker said.

She has continued to be that voice every single day.

“That’s the reminder,” she said. “And that’s why we sit here, that’s why we advocate, that’s why we speak out. We never want anybody to feel like this.”

This bill does not change the process of purchasing a handgun. People still must complete the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form and be approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Smaltz said this ensures only eligible buyers legally purchase handguns.

Gun licenses also typically raise $5.3 million a year for local police departments, which is spent on firearms training, bulletproof vests, ammunition and firearms purchases. This is a tab that taxpayers would now – at least, partially – have to pick up.

House Republicans put $3.5 million into the state budget for local police department training to offset the lost revenue. Smaltz said he wants the funding to continue for our officers, but instead, more fairly.

“That was a cost that was born entirely upon the law-abiding permit seeker,” he said. “We are now going to spread that across the entire population of the state of Indiana, which seems to be more fair because everybody wants our police to be safe, everybody is contributing to the fund to help them.”