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General Assembly

Guns in school lot stir debate

Tone of legislative dispute spawns claims of bullying

– A move to allow guns in school parking lots drew testy exchanges Monday between citizens opposing the bill and Republican lawmakers defending it.

The meeting got so heated that one Democratic legislator called it bullying.

“I think the behavior of some of the committee members was a little over the top,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson. “They were disrespectful to those expressing concerns. Bullying doesn’t just occur in schools.”

But Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour – one of the more vocal members – said he was just refuting misinformation.

“We have to make sure people have the facts,” he said. “It’s imperative that we respect the rights of the individual.”

The meeting was the first to hash out differences on Senate Bill 229.

No final compromises were reached.

The legislation originally dealt with law enforcement gun buyback programs. But the House added language that would allow Hoosiers with firearm permits to have a gun in their locked vehicle parked at a school if it is out of sight.

Under current law, it is a felony to have a gun on any school property. It still would be a felony to take a firearm into a school.

Supporters contend people – such as teachers and parents – deserve the right to self-protection that having a gun affords when driving to and from school.

And Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, kept saying the bill was about protecting “legitimate, proper citizens” – not criminals.

Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, who was a police officer for decades, took exception to the notion that no one with a carry permit can be irrational or have a problem with anger or rage.

A coalition of groups against that provision has grown in recent weeks, including a number of school organizations and children’s groups.

“Having guns on school property that are very accessible adds potential for what may occur,” said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals.

And Stephen Dunlop, of Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence, said, “There are certain areas where it is simply inappropriate to bring a gun.” He noted people aren’t allowed to bring guns to courthouses or even to the Statehouse.

It got especially heated when Zionsville mother Shannon Watts, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, testified.

For every statistic she used, Lucas countered from a book he carried. For every statement she made on mass shootings, another lawmaker would rebut it.

Lucas even pointed out Watts’ maiden name and read a list of her previous jobs to point out her expertise in media and marketing.

And Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, called Watts disingenuous for supporting background checks and other gun regulations but claiming to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

A representative from the National Rifle Association spoke in support of the bill but no private citizens did.

nkelly@jg.net

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