As the nation again examines how it regulates gun ownership in the wake of last week’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., there seems to be some hope that reasonable, moderate Americans may be able to take the debate away from the extremists on either end of the issue.
In Indiana, that should mean repealing some of the nonsensical laws passed in recent years, borrowing from Texas standards for having a permit to carry a gun and looking at the need to keep guns secure.
Anti-gun zealots must realize that the Second Amendment gives qualified Americans the right to have arms to defend themselves. The pro-gun advocates must understand that none of the rights in the Constitution are absolute.
The First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and of the press lists no exceptions, but lawmakers and the courts have rightly determined that the freedom does not extend to libel or child pornography. The Fourth Amendment requires police to have a warrant to search your house, but if they know a crime is in progress and a life is in danger, they can legally force their way into a home.
The Second Amendment does not give Americans the right to own a machine gun. It is not absolute.
So states and courts have shaped limitations. The government can prohibit people with mental illnesses or criminal convictions from owning a gun. States can give their residents permission to carry a gun in public – but they can attach requirements with that permission. In Texas, for example, residents must take 10 hours of classes in gun use and safety, qualify on a firing range and pass a 50-question test to receive a carry permit. And every five years, they must recertify their license, which requires more classes. Ohio also requires training to receive a carry permit.
Indiana, however, requires no training or proof of skills – and allows Hoosiers to obtain a lifetime carry permit, ending a renewal process that could identify people who no longer qualify.
Three years ago, the Indianapolis Star – using the database of Indiana handgun permits – found that state police wrongly approved gun permits in Lake and Marion counties for Hoosiers with criminal histories. State lawmakers responded in their 2010 session – by making secret the previously open records of people who received state permits.
Also in that session, lawmakers passed a rare bill against the interests of businesses, creating a law allowing workers to keep guns in their cars parked at businesses. Previously, businesses had wide ability to regulate what employees can and cannot bring to their workplace property.
In 2011, lawmakers took away the ability of local officials to ban guns in government-owned buildings. But while the legislature insisted that citizens would be safer if they were allowed to take guns to city council meetings, members continued the no-gun restriction for their own sessions at the Indiana Statehouse.
There is no evidence that these laws have made Hoosiers safer. In fact, an Indianapolis gun dealer perennially shows up as one of the biggest sources of guns later used in crimes, caused at least in part by Indiana’s loose requirements.
None of these laws enabled a disturbed man to kill 20 innocent children and six adults at their Connecticut school. But Indiana and the nation should strive for sensible laws that allow responsible, law-abiding adults to own and carry some types of guns while emphasizing gun safety and setting at least some reasonable standards for gun ownership.
Indiana can start with repealing some of the more noxious pro-gun laws the legislature adopted in recent years and requiring training to receive a handgun permit.