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House panel rejects easing school gun restrictions

– Lawmakers turned back an attempt Wednesday to lessen the criminal penalty for bringing a gun into a school.

House Bill 1048 originally would have dropped that crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But the House Public Policy Committee amended the legislation to retain current law as a felony.

Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, chairman of the panel, said he was uncomfortable with reducing the criminal penalty for the crime.

The remaining portion of the bill redefines what is considered school property to exclude adjacent property such as parking lots.

This means that teachers, visitors and students with a valid license to carry a handgun can keep firearms in their locked vehicles – out of sight – in school parking lots.

Guns cannot be carried into a school building or on a school bus.

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, expressed concern that the legislation takes away the authority of school boards to regulate firearms on their property.

“I’m here pointing out public safety issues,” he said.

But Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said the bill is a simple follow-up to legislation passed a few years ago that allows other employees in the state to bring guns to work if they remain in a locked vehicle.

“A lot of teachers want to exercise their right to self-defense,” he said.

But current state law defines parking lots as school property, and school employees therefore lose the protection of having their gun while traveling to and from work, he said.

“School boards are being forced to recognize an individual’s right to self-defense like any other employer,” Lucas said.

The panel will vote on the bill next week.

nkelly@jg.net

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