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In wake of Florida school shooting, controversy arises in state handgun license bill

INDIANAPOLIS — In the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida, state lawmakers disagreed on how to move forward with a bill that would change handgun license requirements.  

House Bill 1424, which would remove a fee for a lifetime carry permit and would extend the four-year handgun carry license to a five-year license, passed 7-3 Wednesday through a Senate committee. The bill will now head to the Senate Appropriations committee before being sent to the full Senate for a vote.

Those in favor of the bill argued it would create stricter license regulations, while those against the bill worried it would actually loosen gun laws in Indiana.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said ever since last week, he started looking at bills regarding gun laws differently. Although the Senate did unanimously pass a bill a few weeks ago that is almost identical to House Bill 1424, Lanane said he is now going to more carefully scrutinize bills regarding gun purchasing. He said after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week killed 17 people, things changed.

“There was a bill and that bill was before last week,” Lanane said. “Everything’s changed. You can’t fault us — can’t fault anyone —for looking at these bills differently.”

He added that he perceived the bill as potentially going down the road of loosening license regulations. 

“I don’t want to do anything at this point in time, given the state of our nation, to make our laws any easier to get a gun,” Lanane said.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, spoke out against the bill, criticizing the background check system it would put into place and the potential five-year window in which someone would not have to get a background check.

Taylor said he carries a gun and hunts, but that it’s time to be more sensible when it comes to license regulations.

“Coming after the horrifying things that we have seen happening in this country, this is unbelievable to me,” Taylor said.

Taylor mentioned he was concerned that people could buy a gun even if their license was suspended, since they only have to receive a background check when they first get the license.

He said things could change within five years, and without a background check, there is no way of knowing if their license is valid.

“We have people whose driver's licenses get suspended every day and they still drive and still have a physical driver’s license,” Taylor said. “They would never know it’s been suspended.”

Those in favor of the bill, however, said that when purchasing a gun, a person’s license has to be checked to ensure it is valid, even if they do not have to complete a full background check.

Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, the committee chairman and sponsor of the bill, said the bill would actually put a stronger background check in place. He added that more than half of other states have laws similar to this.

“This is just something we can do to make things a little easier, having a little less bureaucracy,” Bray said. 

Taylor also had concerns about the system that would be used for the initial background check. The bill calls for the use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Taylor cited Dylann Roof, the mass shooter of a Charleston church in 2015, as an example of when the system failed.

“We’ve got these situations where we already know that the system you’re asking us to approve has failed to protect people, law-abiding citizens,” Taylor said. “We already know it, and you’re asking us today to approve that same process.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said this bill is actually more stringent than what Indiana currently has. He said when someone gets a handgun permit today, he or she does not have to go through any federal background check. The bill would ensure that anyone seeking a license would have to complete one first.

He added he still supports the background check system, despite any flaws it may have. He countered Taylor’s argument based off Roof, saying Roof was able to get a gun because of a data entry error, not the system itself.

“There’s no system that I’m aware of on the planet that is perfect,” Freeman said. “There is nothing that is perfect.”

While many state police officers and sheriffs support the bill, some who testified worried what will happen to their departments if the license fee was removed.

An amendment was discussed and failed 5-5 that would have reinstated the license fee, something many safety officials worry about since the money from the license fees oftentimes goes toward the training of police officers.

Tim Troyer, Indiana Sheriffs' Association president, said some of the training he does is much more in-depth and detailed than some might think, he said. Training could include everything from shooting to decision-making to active-shooter drills.

Troyer added that if sheriff's departments do not have money from these fees, that money will need to be made up in other areas.

“It does tie into our ability to provide public safety,” Troyer said.

The bill must make its way through the appropriations committee and through the full Senate before it could become a law.

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