Whether gun laws ought to be tightened or loosened is a matter of ongoing debate, but gun-permit statistics speak loud and clear.
At the end of last year, 10,993 gun permits were being held by Bartholomew County residents. That total represents a five-year increase of 89 percent, according to data recently released by the Indiana State Police.
Most handgun license applications are approved, according to an analysis of Bartholomew County statistics between 2012 and 2017. Last year, 97.7 per- cent of the 939 licenses sought by Bartholomew County residents were approved. State police in their annual reports do not indicate reasons for permit applications that are denied.
To carry a handgun — concealed, openly or otherwise — a Hoosier has to have a license from the state, and the number of local permits issued last year represents about 17.8 percent of all Bartholomew County adults.
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While there are different philosophical camps regarding gun control, many people on both sides of the issue are motivated by the same thing, said Beth Booth Poor, a moderator for local Third House legislative sessions sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Seeing violent crime and mass shootings on the news makes everyone feel threatened,” the retired Bartholomew County Library director said.
The intimacy of video used extensively by television news also makes far-away threats seem immediate and local, Poor said.
Defending against crime
During his State of the City address last year, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said the city’s property crime rate was 75 percent higher than the national average.
An escalation of local property crime leaves many Bartholomew County residents feeling vulnerable in their own homes, said Aaron Watson, president of Watson Chambers Defense Institute on 17th Street in Columbus.
A goal of many gun owners is maintaining a formidable personal defense “in case someone breaks into their house, or if they are driving and someone tries to carjack them,” said Tom Redmon of Columbus.
Other factors also come into play in assessing the increase in gun permits.
Fearing that then-President “Obama was going after the guns,” local activist Ann Jones said people stocked up in the event that stricter federal gun laws would be passed. That assessment would support the large increase in 2016 gun-licensing statistics in Bartholomew County.
Although some people say a handgun or conventional rifle should be enough for personal defense, maintaining military-grade weapons makes many people in the area feel more empowered and better prepared to face an uncertain threat, Poor said.
But Jones recalls being part of a presentation last winter where she and three other audience volunteers were briefed on proper police procedures and possible scenarios involving use of force.
In a staged scenario involving a bar brawl, all four ended up shooting — blanks — at a man who approached them in a confrontational manner.
None of the four realized the man did not have a weapon, nor had he committed any crime other than disregarding an officer.
“Your ability to respond properly in these terrifying situations are not good,” Jones said of the experience.
Statewide, about 1 in 6 adult Hoosiers now have a handgun permit — up from 1 in 10 in 2012, according to State Police statistics.
Permits have especially skyrocketed for women in Indiana. The biggest surge in Bartholomew County permits issued to women was in 2016, when 689 of the 1,821 permits issued — more than one-third — went to women. That is three-and-a-half times more than the number of handgun permits issued to females in 2012.
“The number of women getting handguns is exploding,” said State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. “They feel they have a responsibility not only to protect themselves, but also their children.”
There was a lot of talk that state lawmakers this year would pass a constitutional carry law, which allows someone to legally carry a handgun without a license or permit, Watson said.
“Many were banking that would happen,” Watson said. “They didn’t want to shell out $150, only to find out six months later that they didn’t have to pay it.”
As it turned out, the constitutional carry proposal died when House Bill 1022, authored by Lucas, failed to make it out of the House Committee on Public Policy during this year’s session.
Although this was the fourth failed effort by Lucas to make constitutional carry a reality in Indiana, the Seymour lawmaker said he plans to keep bringing the bill back to the Indiana General Assembly.
“It’s just wrong for a government to charge a person to exercise a constitutional right,” Lucas said.
A key reason for a strong local gun culture among conservatives is that gun ownership is closely tied to personal freedoms and is now part of a national identity, Redmon said.
Pew Research backs up Redmon, finding three quarters of American gun owners say their right to own firearms is essential to their freedom. Only 35 percent of non-gun owners share that view, the polling company stated.
It turns out there is one thing about guns that Jones and Redmon agree on.
Many rural Americans grew up in families where a love of hunting and guns has been handed down from generation to generation.
Redmon’s father, the late Petersville resident Roy Redmon (1920-2001), was a champion shooter and charter member of the Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club.
“Dad started us real young with rabbit and squirrel hunts,” Tom Redmon said. “When we got older, we enjoyed hunting deer together.”
The vast majority of people Redmon has known his entire life have owned guns and never done anything wrong with them, he said.
And that is something Jones said she can respect.
“Family traditions regarding guns make sense,” Jones said. “But only if everyone practices safety, follows the laws, and keep them locked up from children.”