Before July 1, plenty of Hoosiers already felt anxiety and apprehension about possible gun violence while inside stores, theaters, supermarkets, houses of worship, night spots, concerts, outdoors celebrations, workplaces and schools.

The cycle of shootings across the nation left people, young and old, looking over their shoulders in public spaces.

Then House Enrolled Act 1296 took effect on July 1. The Indiana General Assembly passed the legislation to allow most people over the age of 18 to carry a handgun in public without a license. Law enforcement organizations, including the Indiana State Police and Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, opposed the repeal of the state’s existing law that required a permit to carry such a weapon in public. Those groups were concerned the change would leave law officers on traffic stops with one less tool to determine whether a person legally possessed a gun. Gun safety advocates feared the permit-less carry law would escalate violence.

Of course, the General Assembly passed the law anyway.

An Aug. 2 incident at a Walmart in Terre Haute illuminates the heightened anxiety for Hoosiers as result of legislators opting for a Wild West atmosphere.

Two young men walked into the Walmart store on the city’s east side. One wore a balaclava — often called a ski mask — and carried what appeared to be a handgun on his hip and tucked into the waistband of his pants. (Police later determined the man was carrying an airsoft pellet gun. The other young man was not wearing a ski mask and did not possess any weapons.)

The presence of the ski-masked man with a weapon on his hip sent customers fleeing from the store. It also led the Terre Haute Police Department officers to respond, and they approached with guns drawn on the two young men, according to a public statement by Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt on Friday morning. Modesitt issued the statement to explain why no arrests were made in the incident. Public outrage over the incident churned through social media, and Modesitt also rebutted exaggerations and misinformation spread through those platforms.

Modesitt and Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen expressed frustration over the incident, especially as the prosecutor explained that the two teens had not violated any Indiana laws, such as disturbing the peace or intimidation. The teens made no threats or demands to anyone in the business, Modesitt said, citing a review of a store surveillance video. They sat down at a Subway shop in the building, walked toward the customer service area and then the jewelry counter, when police arrived. They cooperated and were removed from the store.

The prosecutor contacted state Sen. Jon Ford to urge the adoption of a law making it a crime for a person to carry a weapon with a full-face mask on.

That is the surreal, absurd world in which Hoosiers live.

Obviously, the mask is not the threat. It is the other half of the equation those two foolish young men perpetrated — a weapon perceived to be a handgun. To quote the prosecutor, “This type of thoughtless and senseless action is never appropriate, especially in our current climate of mass shootings and increased violence.”

In praise of the responding officers, Modesitt also said, “They handled the interaction with a potentially armed and dangerous person with caution and authority, ensuring the safety of shoppers and employees.”

Again, a person walking into a Walmart in a ski mask, but unarmed, would likely baffle and unnerve shoppers and employees. Yet, it was the presence of what appeared to be a lethal weapon along with that ski mask that sent shoppers fleeing and prompted police to approach with guns drawn.

Chief Keen made the most important observation. He noted that under Indiana’s new open carry law, the two teens were lucky someone else in the store did not shoot them, perceiving a threat. “That’s a concern,” Keen said.

The entire state will be lucky if such a scenario never happens. This madness was not necessary, and the legislature needs to fix what it has unleashed.
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