Heath VanNatter

The 2015 legislative bills co-authored by District 38 Representative Heath VanNatter and District 69 Representative Jim Lucas will not be heard this legislative session, but have garnered attention from across the United States.

The three bills presented aim to limit the restrictions placed on gun owners in Indiana, which already has some of the more lenient and undefined laws in the nation.

“We’ve been talking about these bills for a few years, and Rep. Lucas and I decided to pull the trigger and do it,” explained Rep. Heath VanNatter. “I’ve had a lot of contact with people who have wanted a constitutional carry law, which means you can carry a gun without a license.”

In Howard County, 9,417 people have firearm licenses, according to State Police records, making up 11 percent of the community.

There are no specifications for open or concealed carrying in Indiana, and guns purchased at shows and private sales do not need to be registered or permitted.

House Bill 1244 aims at protecting a citizen’s right to carry a gun wherever they see fit. In the case that a business bars the possession of a firearm by a patron or an employee, this bill seeks to grant the disarmed person immunity from civil liability and the right to sue the business owner.  Currently, private businesses may restrict or forbid firearms on their properties.

HB1144 repeals the law that requires a person to obtain a license to carry a handgun in Indiana. Currently, Indiana does not require a permit to purchase firearms. However, a handgun license is required to carry for personal protection off an individual’s own property, hunting, and target shooting.

Perhaps the most controversial, HB1143 prohibits a state agency, including a state supported college or university, from regulating the possession or transportation of firearms. It also allows a person to bring action against a state agency if the person is adversely affected by a rule, a measure, an enactment, or a policy of the state agency that violates this law.

Representative VanNatter has not been in contact with any public awareness groups or gun advocacy groups on these bills.

“The NRA is reviewing all the legislation that relates to the second amendment, but it’s too early to see if we will be backing these bills,” said Catherine Mortensen, the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. “We will be very active in Indiana, and we are anxious to protect the rights of the people in Indiana. And whatever the best legislation that we think will do that we’re going to give serious consideration to anything we can do to help protect the 2nd amendment rights of the people of Indiana.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard University Injury Control Research Center, they overwhelmingly state that weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation.

However, recently the Gallup Organization published a poll that showed that six out of 10 Americans still feel safer having a gun in their home.

“The bottom line is that criminals carry a gun with or without a license. Licenses don’t stop people from carrying guns. They’re willing to break the law for whatever it is they want to do,” explained Rep. VanNatter.

Current Indiana licensing restrictions on gun ownership mainly applies to persons convicted for a felony or for a misdemeanor domestic battery. A license also can be denied if the applicant has been arrested for a violent crime, has documented substance abuse, or has a history of violent mental illness.

“Most crimes are committed by people without a permit anyway,” he said. “Most people who go out and get a permit are not going to use the gun in a crime.

“I don’t know if currently there’s any more of a consequence for carrying a firearm illegally without a permit, but a felon wouldn’t have a permit so that’s a charge.”

Currently, carrying a gun without a license can be prosecuted as a Class B misdemeanor all the way up to a Class C felony, depending on the location of the firearm and circumstances.

Proponents of more lax gun regulations cite that purchasing a “carry permit” and regulating owners of guns are direct attacks on their 2nd Amendment Right to have a gun.

“I’m a firm believer in the constitution, and I believe we have the right to protect ourselves and carry a gun,” said Rep. VanNatter. “The government is taxing on our 2nd amendment right. Most people would agree that a poll tax isn’t right. It’s not right to charge someone a fee to vote. It’s our constitutional right to vote. I should be able to protect myself without having to pay a fee for a license.”

Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, Arizona, and Arkansas are the only states thus far to have Constitutional Carry laws in place, which means that no license or permit is necessary to own a gun.

After the wake of the Purdue University shooting, it comes as no surprise that students with legal guns would like to bring their own to classes with them, however, the safety of this situation is still under critique from numerous gun safety advocacy groups.

The gun industry has been pushing states to adopt laws that would prohibit the restriction of guns on America’s college campuses. Indiana has no specific law regarding the limitations of concealed firearms on college and university campuses; therefore it is up to each university and college to decide whether to permit concealed handguns on campus or in buildings. However, currently all public and private universities in the state forbid students and staff from bringing their weapons onto campus.

“It’s already dead,” Rep. VanNatter lamented. “The chairman of the public policy committee said he wasn’t going to hear the bills. So this is dead for this year. The session ends April 29, but it depends what we’ll bring up next session. We have a five-bill limit, so I’ll have to prioritize what I want to do.”