PACKING HEAT

An Indiana lawmaker is pushing for changes that likely would increase the number of Hoosiers carrying firearms.

State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, introduced two bills during the opening day of the new legislative session at the Statehouse this week. Lucas’s district includes part of southern Bartholomew County, between State Road 7 and U.S. 31. He also represents portions of Jennings, Jackson and Jefferson counties.

House Bill 1056 would do away with current laws requiring that people purchase a license to carry a loaded handgun on their body or in their vehicle.

The other bill authored by Lucas, House Bill 1055, dubbed the “campus carry bill,” would make it legal for people to have firearms on state-funded property, including public universities, schools, parks and government buildings.

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Lucas, a small-business owner and former Marine, has been a strong supporter of gun rights since being elected to state office in 2012. He is a member of and endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

Although he is receiving support from voters who want their constitutional right to bear arms protected, others say the changes would lead to increased gun-related crimes and deaths in Indiana.

If people were educated in the safe use of firearms, the opposite would be true, Lucas said.

“So many people think that if we let kids start carrying guns to school, or anybody for that matter, that it will turn into the Wild West, and that’s just not the case,” he said. “There are seven or eight states now that allow campus carry and we aren’t seeing those kinds of shootouts that everyone is imagining.”

Lucas said he simply wants people to be able to defend themselves and for anyone lawfully able to carry a firearm to not be prohibited from doing so. People with domestic violence convictions or who have been committed to a mental institution would still not legally be able to carry a handgun, Lucas said.

“If you are a felon and carrying a gun, then you are doing so illegally, and you wouldn’t have a license in the first place,” he said.

The facts about responsible gun ownership speak for themselves, he said.

“Gun homicides are down by over 50 percent in the country in the last 20 years and yet gun sales have exploded over the last 10 years,” he said. “There are significantly more guns out there and yet fewer people are being killed by guns.”

Mark Land, a spokesman for Indiana University, said the university has consistently opposed efforts to allow individuals to carry guns on its campuses.

“In our view, to allow the introduction of guns on our campuses would unnecessarily increase the risk to our students, employees and guests,” he said.

Steven Cain, an IUPUC senior studying business, said he would be shocked to see a gun on campus. There is a big difference between someone carrying a handgun and someone capable of using that gun in a way that makes college a safer place, he said.

“I just hope the motivation here is to protect the Second Amendment and not the idea that someone without training will make people safer,” Cain said.

Mike Hatfield has been selling guns for the past 31 years at Phoenix Gun Store on Columbus’ southeast side.

“Do I need a license for any other constitutional right?” said Hatfield, a supporter of both of Lucas’ proposed measures. “The only thing a gun-free zone does is hang out a sign saying, ‘Easy meat.’ Ghouls are always going to prey on easy victims.”

Hatfield does object to one gun measure currently under consideration in the Statehouse.

State Sen. James Tomes, R-Wadesville, introduced Senate Bill 36, which would prevent consideration of drunk-driving convictions in the process of obtaining a conceal carry permit.

“Absolutely not,” Hatfield said. “If you are convicted of a DUI, then you can’t drive. Why should you be able to carry a gun?”

Efforts to roll back Indiana’s gun restrictions come as President Barack Obama seeks to curb gun violence with new executive actions aimed at gun shows and Internet sales. The proposals also come as Indianapolis grapples with a record number of homicides and a sharp uptick in shootings.

Despite Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts, GOP leaders at the Statehouse have been hesitant to embrace the proposals from Lucas and Tomes.

“I think the current system works. Conceal carry is available to law-abiding citizens, like myself, with the pink permit in my pocket,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

He added that the proposal allowing repeat alcohol offenders to obtain a license “gives me pause.”

“We need to be sure that responsible law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms legally in our state. That’s assured by the Constitution,” he said. “But we also need to be certain those who should not be bearing arms, like those who have a history of domestic abuse or mental health problems, do not have the unfettered right to bear arms. So I haven’t formulated an opinion on the alcohol offenders yet.”

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, also declined to take a position of the legislation.

“We haven’t had any discussion on that,” he said. “I’ve got to read it to review them.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he couldn’t comment on the bills because he hadn’t had time to review them.

“I believe Indiana has a good framework of laws that see to it that our right to keep and bear arms is safe,” he said. “But, look, I believe that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens keep us more safe, not less safe.”

Republic staff writer Ben Skirvin contributed to this report.

How to reach state lawmakers

State Senate

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, District 41. Contact: Senator.Walker@iga.in.gov; or 800-382-9467

State Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, District 43. Contact: Senator.Perfect@iga.in.gov; or 800-382-9467

State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, District 44. Contact: Senator.Steele@iga.in.gov; or 800-382-9467

State House of Representatives

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, District 59. Contact: h59@in.gov or 800-382-9841

State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, District 69. Contact: h69.iga.in.gov or 800-382-9841

State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, District 57. Contact: h57@in.gov or 800-382-9841