AUBURN — State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, is puzzling over the failure of his gun-rights bill in the Indiana Senate this week.
Smaltz’s “lawful carry” bill sought to allow law-abiding Hoosier adults to carry handguns without the need to obtain state permits.
It passed the Indiana House of Representatives by a 65-31 vote on Feb. 22.
Twenty-one of the 50 state senators had signed as co-sponsors of the bill, including both state senators who represent DeKalb County, Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.
His bill almost certainly would have passed in the Senate if it had been allowed to come to a vote, Smaltz said Friday.
Instead, two Senate leaders of Smaltz’s own Republican Party blocked the bill by refusing to give it a committee hearing.
Smaltz called the outcome “very disappointing.” He added, “The support was there. … Despite what was really trying to be done for the lawful good guy, decisions were made contrary to that.”
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray halted the bill because of opposition from the Indiana State Police superintendent, the state police chiefs association and the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, he told the Associated Press.
“Bray said he shared the concerns of those groups over the bill’s requirement that the state create a database so that police officers could immediately know if they are encountering people prohibited from having firearms,” AP reported this week.
Smaltz said Friday that the opponents worried about a feature that is not even part of his bill.
Smaltz said he researched any problems police officers met in other states that have eliminated handgun permits. They now number 19 states, up from 16 only a year ago.
“Those fears never materialized anywhere,” Smaltz said. “The data side … just didn’t back up their argument.”
In place of his bill, senators are proposing to eliminate the $75 fee for a lifetime handgun permit. The Legislature made five-year permits free in a 2019 bill sponsored by Smaltz.
Making lifetime permits free would not eliminate the long waits for handgun permits that Smaltz finds unacceptable.
“The free lifetime permit isn’t the whole story. It’s submitting your fingerprints. It’s having somebody in a room, somewhere, that you don’t know, deciding if you get to exercise your rights or not. It’s taking time off work to go get those fingerprints.”
He related the story of a local constituent seeking a handgun license who had to travel to Decatur for fingerprinting, wait a month to get an appointment, pay for the service, then wait four months for a state background check.
“The criminal doesn’t have to do any of that,” Smaltz said.
Even if his bill had passed, many Hoosiers would have continued to obtain handgun permits, Smaltz said. A Hoosier still would have needed an Indiana permit to be able to carry a handgun in the majority of other states.
“I would want one,” Smaltz said,
Smaltz’s bill would have provided $3.5 million per year to replace any income police agencies might lose from permit fees. However, because many people still would have purchased permits, “it actually would have been a money windfall” for police agencies, he said.
Smaltz’s bill did not address the potential delays for people who still would choose to obtain permits. He said a typical waiting period is 90 days.
“They would still have to go through that cumbersome process,” he said. However, he added, “The time is less critical when I’m trying to get the ability to carry in another state.”
For a person who needs a handgun to carry in Indiana because of an immediate safety threat, he asked, “How do we help them protect themselves tomorrow, not four months from now?”
Smaltz said his bill also aimed to make criminal history information — now available to emergency dispatchers — available immediately to an officer on the street without calling a dispatcher to obtain it.
Under existing rules, Smaltz said, criminal history is considered too sensitive to allow it to be on a police officer’s in-car computer, “but it’s OK to voice it over radio that people can listen to.”
He added, “I think it would be safer for the officer to have that available to them in the car.”
One objection to his bill assumed that it would create a database of people with felony convictions, but that was not part of his bill, Smaltz said.
He finds the objection odd, because the Senate voted in 2019 to create a database of felons. That bill died in the House that year.
Ironically, Smaltz said, “All the lawful people in the State of Indiana who have gone through the process to get their license to carry handguns are absolutely on a database right now.”
He added, “Many of us believe that databases are dangerous things to keep on lawful people.”
Moving forward, Smaltz said, “We’ll gather more data from the now 19 states that do this and see where we go.”
Smaltz previously tried to eliminate handgun permits in 2017.
After his 2017 bill failed, he then succeeded with a set of different reforms in 2019. That year, his bill made five-year handgun permits free of charge and allowed people to carry handguns in churches. It created immunity against civil lawsuits for anyone who uses a handgun for defense with justifiable force who is not charged criminally.