Chuck McMichael, deputy chief of the Greenfield Police Department, looks over a handgun confiscated during an investigation. As a practical matter, McMichael said, the proposed law could hinder police investigations. Staff photo by Tom Russo
Chuck McMichael, deputy chief of the Greenfield Police Department, looks over a handgun confiscated during an investigation. As a practical matter, McMichael said, the proposed law could hinder police investigations. Staff photo by Tom Russo

HANCOCK COUNTY — The thought of allowing anyone over 18 to possess a gun without a proper license doesn’t exactly sit well with local law enforcement.

“It’s a touchy, touchy thing,” said Hancock County Sheriff Brad Burkhart.

The Indiana Senate in coming weeks likely will consider House Bill 1077, which would eliminate the need for handgun permits in Indiana. The bill passed out of the House last week on a largely party-line vote, 64-29. A similar proposal failed in the Senate last year as Republican leaders pointed to opposition from the Indiana State Police, the state police chiefs association and the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police.

If the bill does became a law, anyone 18 or older would be able to obtain a handgun without a permit. It still would restrict people with felony convictions or those who face restraining orders from a court. The bill also proposes changing the theft of a firearm to a Level 5 felony.

While Burkhart has strongly believes in the Second Amendment, he likes how gun ownership is currently set up with strong safety measures in place.

“I believe in the right to carry, but that doesn’t mean everyone should have the right to carry,” Burkhart said. “There are a lot of people who get declined for good reasons.”

Law enforcement stats show that from 2020 through 2021, the Indiana State Police declined 10,633 gun applications. Of those, 4,319 of them were for felony convictions or for making false statements about a conviction.

“This is 10,633 individuals that would have been allowed to possess and carry a weapon if the licensing requirement was abolished,” Burkhart said. “That’s bad news for law enforcement and public safety in general.”

He added: “With this bill, every high school kid 18 or older has the right to carry a weapon without any training or knowledge, and that’s a bit of a red flag,” Burkhart said.

Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), whose district includes northwestern Hancock County, said that people who buy would still be subject to so-called “Red Flag” provision, which aim to prevent people who could be a danger to themselves or others from accessing guns, would be unaffected by HB 1077.

Jeter, in a story earlier this week in the Daily Reporter, said the bill would cut red tape for law-abiding citizens and is closer to what the Constitution intended with the Second Amendment.

“Criminals don’t get permits, and they don’t follow the law,” said Jeter, who voted in favor of HB 1077. Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, also voted for it.

Burkhart and many in law enforcement, however, have concerns. Chuck McMichael, deputy chief for the Greenfield Police Department, said they along with the Indiana FOP, the Indiana State Police and the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police remain opposed to any bill that eliminates the requirement for a license.

McMichael noted that every year, the state police deny thousands of applications for licenses due to mental health or domestic violence issues.

“These people are not permitted to possess or carry a firearm under Indiana and federal Law,” McMichael said.

Both Burkhart and McMichael brought up the point that the state of Indiana last year eliminated the cost of a license, making it easier for people to obtain a permit.

Unfortunately, that measure is hurting law enforcement, who formerly use the funds collected from the licenses to pay for mandated training and ammunition. Burkhart said while the state agreed to compensate police departments for that lost revenue — estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 per year — his department has not seen any funds.

“We didn’t get anything from last year,” Burkhart said.

McMichael and officials from the GPD feel the process currently in place is good because it helps to prevent those who are not legally permitted to possess or carry a firearm from doing so, and the current process allows law enforcement quick and easy access to that information.

“Without permits, it would be nearly impossible for an officer to confirm whether or not a person is legally allowed to carry a firearm,” McMichael said.

Kevin Whary works at Highsmith Guns in Greenfield, 123 N. State St. He believes everyone should have the right to carry a gun without a permit.

“But, with that being said, I have my permit and have had my permit for a very long time,” Whary said.

He suspects they’ll sell a few more guns if the new measure does pass, but feels Indiana gun laws are adequate without making any changes. Indiana could become the 22nd so-called “constitutional carry” state if the bill becomes law.

“I don’t know if we need a change,” Whary said. “We’re pretty loose, I mean we’re not California or Illinois and our permit system is pretty easy to deal with as is.”

For their own safety, law enforcement officers are trained to always assume everyone is armed, Burkhart and McMichael said, and both leaders of the county’s two biggest law enforcement agencies say their concern with the bill is for the general public.

“Violence is becoming more common in our society, and the provision of having a permit to carry allows law enforcement to take violators into custody to prevent these tragedies from happening,” McMichael said.

McMichael argues the bill would make it more difficult to protect communities.

Most guns confiscated by law enforcement come from people breaking the law, Burkhart said, and those people don’t follow the laws anyway. But, he noted, deputies occasionally encounter a domestic issue where a legal gun is taken from someone, but those instances are rare.

Burkhart also made a point that every hunter in the state has a right to have a gun, but all hunters still have to get a license. His worries the current bill could create a slippery slope when it comes to other licenses.

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