State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, left, and state Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, debate Tuesday in the House chamber the perils and promise of House Bill 1077, which would allow Indiana handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without needing to obtain a state license. The measure was approved 63-29 in the House and now goes to the Senate. Staff photo by Dan Carden
State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, left, and state Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, debate Tuesday in the House chamber the perils and promise of House Bill 1077, which would allow Indiana handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without needing to obtain a state license. The measure was approved 63-29 in the House and now goes to the Senate. Staff photo by Dan Carden
Indiana once again is halfway to becoming the 22nd state to allow handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without needing to obtain a state license.

The Republican-controlled House voted 63-29 Tuesday to advance to the House Bill 1077 to the Senate.

It repeals the state's existing licensing requirement to carry a handgun in public, allows Hoosiers wanting a license for out-of-state reciprocity purposes to continue to get one at no cost, and makes firearm theft a Level 5 felony punishable by up to six years in prison, instead of a Level 6 felony.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the sponsor, said he believes it's wrong for Indiana to condition the constitutional right to keep and bear arms on an "incredibly burdensome" requirement that lawful gun owners get permission from the state before carrying a handgun in public.

He said criminals, by their very nature, are not taking the time to get a carry license, so why should "Mr. and Mrs. Hoosier" have to jump through a bunch of hoops to be able to defend themselves from those criminals?

"Indiana isn't the first to go in this direction in siding with the law-abiding. Twenty-one states have already done this," Smaltz said.

If enacted into law, public carry of a handgun still would be denied to convicted felons; fugitives; some non-citizens; a person convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery or criminal stalking; a person under a restraining order; a person under indictment; a person formally deemed dangerous or mentally defective; or a person dishonorably discharged from military service.

Handguns also would continue to be prohibited at school buildings. In addition, businesses and homeowners would retain the right to bar customers or guests from bringing a handgun onto their property.

State Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, said during House debate she's concerned there's no centralized database of "bad guys," or individuals not permitted to carry handgun in public, and eliminating the permit system for vetted gun owners will leave police unable to know whether a person they pull over in a car or encounter on the street is legally entitled to be carrying a handgun.

In response, Smaltz said: "A presumption of innocence is the foundation of our justice system."

Major Rob Simpson, Indiana State Police assistant chief of staff, is unenthusiastic about taking that chance. He said the state police is opposed to the legislation.

Simpson said some 10,000 handgun carry permits were rejected by the state police in the past two years, primarily due to prior felony convictions, and another 2,000 permits were suspended or revoked after the license holder committed a crime or otherwise was disqualified from carrying a handgun in public.

"We have a system that works," Simpson said.

State police opposition last year was enough to spur Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, into stopping a similar House-approved proposal, House Bill 1369, from advancing through the Senate.

Bray so far has yet to comment on whether this year's measure will meet a similar fate, or if he'll be overruled by more strident gun rights activists in the Senate Republican caucus.

It's also not known if Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who oversees the state police, would sign the permitless carry plan into law if it reaches his desk.

Though it takes only a simple majority vote in each chamber — the same needed to approve legislation in the first place — to override a gubernatorial veto and enact a new law notwithstanding his opposition.
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