Indiana legislators have introduced multiple firearm safety bills for the 2023 legislative session aimed at reducing gun violence and implementing safety measures within the state. The bills would introduce new measures for safe firearm storage, carrying and purchasing weapons and training for school corporations. Here’s a rundown on four main pieces of legislation.
Safe storage of firearms
House Bill 1366, authored by Rep. Mitch Gore, D-Beech Grove, would prohibit storing firearms in a place where a child is likely to gain access to it. The bill would make a child’s possession of a firearm resulting from a person’s failure to store a firearm correctly a class C misdemeanor.
Paul Helmke is the former president and CEO of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Helmke praised Indiana's Red Flag Law, which allows law enforcement to take weapons from people who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others. However, he said, he thinks Indiana does little in terms of preventing gun violence. Helmke said House Bill 1366 could help greatly in preventing children from accessing loaded firearms.
"When you're talking about that age of a person, they don't fully understand what's real and what's not real and what this weapon can do," he said. "Clearly there needs to be some strengthening of the laws to make it clear that those who have guns around children have some responsibilities to keep the children from getting the gun."
While he supports the bill, he said he doubts the gun storage bill will become law due to the Republican supermajority in the House and Senate. The bill was introduced by Democrats.
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Helmke said people need to realize that just as there are gun rights, there are risks and responsibilities that come with owning and operating guns.
"Let's treat this as a public health issue," he said. "Let's try to figure out. How do we stop gun violence from occurring?"
Courtney Daily is a volunteer in Bloomington for the Indiana chapter of Moms Demand Action.
She said safe storage laws could help prevent incidents such as the Beech Grove 4-year-old seen waving a handgun in an apartment complex in January and a 6-year-old's shooting of his teacher that made national news in the same month.
Daily has three young sons. Her oldest was close in age to the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, she said, and she grew up 20 minutes from Sandy Hook. Her personal connection is a major reason she is so passionate about gun laws, she said.
Safe storage laws would cut down on school shootings and unintentional deaths where children accidentally harm themselves or others, she said.
"Kids are curious," she said. "They get into things they're not supposed to. Even if you think you hide your gun well, most of the time those kids know where you hide your gun.”
Raising the minimum age to carry and purchase firearms
Senate Bill 144, authored by Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, would change the minimum age required to carry a handgun in Indiana from 18 to 21 years of age.
Similarly, Senate Bill 361 by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, would make it a level 6 felony for a licensed firearm dealer to sell a semiautomatic assault weapon or a large capacity ammunition feeding device to a person who is under 21.
Level 6 felonies in Indiana are the lowest kind of felony and can carry sentences from six months to two-and-a-half years, as well as fines up to $10,000.
Helmke, the former president of the Brady Campaign, said the ability to reason, better risk assessment and a stronger sense of right and wrong are reasons why raising the cutoff to 21 would be an improvement.
"Guns are a serious risk to people" he said. "There are serious responsibilities that go with that risk. When we allow people to carry loaded guns into public, it not only puts the person with the gun at risk — it puts the rest of us at risk. All this bill would say is that if you're under the age of 21, maybe you should get a permit instead of automatically just being able to do that."
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Jerry King, president of Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence, said the type of bills introduced this year have been introduced before but were not given adequate attention and did not succeed.
King said he thinks changing the age to carry a handgun to 21 would be helpful. However, he said, it does not begin to solve the larger issues of gun violence, which bills like HB1366 enforcing safe storage could help prevent.
In addition, King said, the state should consider reinstating the requirement to have a license to carry a firearm that was repealed in 2022. People may think others will be responsible gunowners, he said, but people who would not have passed a background check or have prior felonies for issues like domestic violence can also obtain guns more easily without a license.
"People can now walk into a gun store and put their money down, buy a gun and walk out," he said.
Firearm safety for school staff members
House Bill 1177, authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, would create a specialized firearms safety and training curriculum for school employees and teachers.
Lucas said the 40-hour course would teach firearm safety, weapon retention, shoot-don't-shoot techniques and de-escalation techniques. The program would be voluntary, meaning school corporations and individual staff members must volunteer to take the classes.
“I’m not trying to turn teachers or staff members into the SWAT team,” he said.
Participants would be required to pass a psychological evaluation prior to training and the course would be state-funded. Under his bill, Lucas said, if an active shooter scenario were to occur, staff members would be provided with counseling.
How firearms were stored, and the type of firearm staff could carry, would also be left up to schools. However, Lucas said he would recommend the staff member carry it on their person.
Being trained would give teachers and staff more time and opportunity to defend themselves, Lucas said. He stressed the training would be for life-or-death situations in which police could not arrive or act quickly. He cited the cases of a school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School allegedly hiding during the 2018 shooting and controversy surrounding what the Texas state police called “egregiously poor decision making” by authorities during the Robb Elementary School shooting in May 2022.
“As much as we hope and pray they don’t happen, school shootings are a very real possibility,“ Lucas said. “At Marjory Stoneman-Douglass in Parkland, Florida and Uvalde, Texas, we saw (student resource officers) standing around while innocent children and school staff members were being slaughtered.”
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Not all schools can afford one or more school resource officers, he said. The average salary for one school resource officer in Indiana ranges from $50,000-60,000, Lucas said, which is money that could be used to train 30-40 school teachers and staff members.
Daily, the volunteer at Moms Demand Action, said she does not think teachers are in the position to handle a school shooter.
"We need to be proactive and not reactive," Daily said. "We need to prevent these things from happening. We need to make it so that it is really difficult to get to that point where it's going to happen."
Monroe County's school security and safety teams, which review the schools' safety measures, are good examples of alternatives, she said. Measures like having only one open entrance to the building could help.
Monroe County's school board and superintendent presented a safe storage resolution a week ago, she said, which will go in school handbooks and websites.
"We have a chance to reduce this number and I just feel very strongly that during the 2023 legislative session, our Indiana lawmakers really need to prioritize common-sense gun safety measures because that can save Hoosier lives," Daily said.