Legislation on gun regulations appears to be close to its final form as lawmakers heard more than three hours of testimony on the issue Monday.
The final bill combines two issues – eliminating the lifetime handgun license fee and allowing gun owners to carry firearms into churches that are on school grounds. It’s the latter that drew much of the debate in the final hearing.
Barbara Maness is a school volunteer and carries at both school and church. She says it’s because she wants to protect against armed people who would do harm.
“If someone thinks that there might be someone who can shoot back, they might think twice,” Maness says.
Kristen DiBella is with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. She says more guns on school grounds makes her scared for her children.
“This is not ideological; this is not political,” DiBella says. “This is a mother pleading with you to help keep my children safe.”
The testimony didn’t only focus on carrying in churches on school grounds. Law enforcement groups say they’re concerned about legislation that would eliminate the fee to obtain a lifetime handgun license.
Indiana offers two handgun permits. One is a lifetime permit; the other must be renewed every four years. The final proposed legislation would eliminate the four-year permit entirely and get rid of the fee charged for the lifetime permit. Those permit fees help fund police training, equipment, and background check processing.
Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer is president of the Indiana Sheriffs Association. He says law enforcement has asked lawmakers to ensure that funding is replaced.
“Crickets in the room are what we hear. We can’t even get a hollow promise from any of you,” Troyer says.
Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) says the fee elimination won’t take effect until July 2019, after lawmakers write a new state budget.
“I do not see this as diminishing your ability to train in any way. And that is not my intent and I do not believe it’s anybody else’s intent.”
But Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) says a commitment isn’t good enough.
“I think that what law enforcement is saying is they don’t trust us to follow through on our promises,” Pierce says. “Because what we’re telling them is like, ‘Wait ‘til next year and maybe in the budget we’ll do something for you.’ There’s no guarantee we’ll do anything for them after this bill’s passed.”
Both chambers have to approve the measure before session ends.