INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The repeal of Indiana’s requirement for a permit to carry a handgun in public has forced police agencies to change how they handle encounters with armed people.
Republicans pushed the repeal, which takes effect Friday, through the state Legislature this spring over the vocal opposition of the state police superintendent and several statewide law enforcement groups. They argued that eliminating the permit system would endanger officers by stripping them of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns.
The change will allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun in public except those with a felony conviction, who face a restraining order or have a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermined Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police fingerprinting and background checks.
Without the permit requirement, police officers can no longer ask about whether someone is legally carrying a handgun or seize a person’s weapon unless they have adequate suspicion that person was involved in a crime, according to state police. The agency has been training its 1,200 troopers on the legal changes and providing information to the hundreds of police departments, said state police spokesman Capt. Ron Galaviz.
“We have to go through another step or two in order to be able to run a criminal check,” Galaviz said. “We won’t necessarily be able to do it there on the side of the road.”
At least 25 states have adopted permitless carry laws, with Georgia in April becoming the 10th state to do so in the past two years as the issue has become a national conservative cause that gun rights advocates call “constitutional carry” in reference to the Second Amendment. Among Indiana’s neighboring states, Ohio, which also acted this spring, and Kentucky don’t require handgun permits, while Illinois and Michigan do.
The loosening of Indiana’s already lax gun laws comes just days after President Joe Biden signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades following a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
About 1.2 million people had Indiana handgun permits as of March 1, according to state police statistics. The permit law required people to obtain a license to carry a loaded handgun outside their own homes, businesses and vehicles, although people could generally carry rifles and shotguns without a permit.
State Police Superintendent Doug Carter sharply criticized Republican lawmakers during legislative hearings on the repeal, blaming “political posturing” for their push and saying that if lawmakers “support this bill, you will not be supporting us.” Carter said following the state Senate vote giving final approval to the bill in March that “this adds a layer of danger to every police officer.”
After Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill, Carter said he would work toward find the best ways to “identify individuals who are not allowed to carry a firearm as defined by Indiana statute.”
Rep. Ben Smaltz, a Republican sponsor of the permit repeal, said police officers were trained not let their guard down during any encounter regardless of whether the person has a gun.
“I think with the law-abiding Hoosier they’re happy that we’re looking out for their interests and making it easy for them to defend themselves away from their home the same way they would at their home,” Smaltz, of Auburn, said.
Galaviz said the state can’t legally create a database of people prohibited from possessing guns and that police and prosecutors will have the burden of proving a person was illegally carrying a handgun.
The state will continue to issue handgun permits, which Galaviz said state police recommend people obtain in order to carry their firearms in other states where they are allowed and to remove questions on whether someone is legally allowed to do so in Indiana because of a past offense.
“There will be some people that they just don’t know,” Galaviz said. “There’re things that have happened in people’s past that they were like, ‘Oh, I forgot that happened.’”