« Ind. Courts - Wrap-up story on the five same-sex marriage challenges filed in SD Ind., starting on March 7th [Updated 3/16/14] | Main | Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana lawmakers probe Ball State over intelligent design: Legislators issue demand, threaten 'legislative action'" »

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ind. Law - "State’s lawmakers pick guns over kids"

The is the heading of an op-ed by Shannon Watts of Zionsville, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that appears today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. It begins:

INDIANAPOLIS – For insight into why Indiana’s – and many other states – gun laws often seem transcribed from the Washington gun lobby’s playbook, visit a legislative hearing at the capitol.

I had this experience last week when I testified against Senate Bill 229, a bill that would allow guns on school property. You would think that the Sandy Hook, Conn., shooting in December 2012 – and the 57 additional school shootings that have taken place across America in the 15 months since – would make our elected officials realize the dangers of letting anyone bring a gun onto school property at any time.

You would also think that legislators would listen to the Indiana Association of School Principals, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, the Indiana School Boards Association, the Indiana Urban School Association, the Indiana State Teachers Association and my organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – which all oppose the legislation – when it comes to matters of child safety at schools. If educators and moms don’t want to allow loaded guns near our children in the place they should feel safest, then whose support does that leave? The gun lobby.

During my testimony, legislators did everything they could to distract listeners from the simple truth that Indiana moms and teachers do not want easy access to guns on school property. Lawmakers yelled, cut off questioning from other legislators and refused to let me finish my responses. At one point State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. pulled out a copy of my résumé and questioned my personal affiliations going back years.

He and other legislators were not nearly as concerned with the personal and professional credentials of the National Rifle Association lobbyist who testified in support of the bill. They also were not concerned that not a single Indiana private citizen showed up to speak up for SB 229.

Moms will endure the heckling from elected officials for as long as we need to if it means keeping our kids safe. We have come a very long way since that awful day at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Lesley Weidenbener's Sunday column in the Louisville Courier Journal is headed "Bullying has no place in the Statehouse." Some quotes:
Whether they’re arguing for a bill or against a bill, telling their own stories or that of a loved one, or simply sharing a heart-felt belief, it’s great to see Hoosiers participating in their government.

Until it goes wrong. Then, it’s just frustrating.

So was the case last week as one Hoosier tried to express her views on a controversial bill only to be browbeaten by a handful of lawmakers who didn’t like those views.

The legislature was days from wrapping up the 2014 session when Shannon Watts, who launched the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, came to the Statehouse to testify against a bill that would allow guns in locked cars in school parking lots.

It was a controversial proposal, especially among gun control and education groups. The proposal’s supporters say it just makes common sense. And I wrote recently that it seemed like an issue on which both sides could find a reasonable compromise.

But Republican lawmakers who backed the legislation — which has since been sent to Gov. Mike Pence to sign into law or to veto — were in no mood to talk compromise with Shannon Watts.

Watts filled her testimony with statistics and data, which she said lawmakers had asked her to do the last time she’d appeared before them. “Easy and unregulated access to guns must be eliminated, not encouraged,” Watts told them.

Republican legislators then picked apart her statistics. They were combative in their questions. They challenged her views.

One lawmaker — Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour — had done research on Watts’ background and ticked off her various jobs, even asking her one time to verify her maiden name so he could describe more of her career history.

His point? She had been a marketing specialist and therefore knew how to manipulate data.

It was all, well, uncomfortable. Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, even called it “bullying.” * * *

Of course, anyone who testifies before a legislative committee should be prepared for questions — and Watts certainly was. Lawmakers should absolutely interact with people about their research and opinions.

Still, there’s no reason to be aggressive and confrontational. A public hearing is just that — for the public. It’s the time for people who represent organizations or companies or themselves to come before the elected leaders who make our laws and try to influence the outcome.

People who exercise that civic duty in the respectful way that Watts did should never be treated poorly. Doing so is indeed bullying and it has no place at the Statehouse.

Finally, here are some quotes from the NRA on its success with SB 229:
Last night, the 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly adjourned sine die. In the eleventh hour, both the state Senate and House agreed on the NRA-supported conference committee report (CCR) for Senate Bill 229. Both legislative chambers passed the measure in an overwhelming manner; by a 38 to 10 vote in the Senate and a 75 to 24 vote in the House of Representatives. SB 229 will now be sent to Governor Mike Pence (R) for his approval.

Authored by state Senator Jim Tomes (R-49) and shepherded through the House by state Representative Sean Eberhart (R-57), SB 229 is a common sense measure which would protect law-abiding gun owners’ rights to transport a firearm. Current Indiana law allows the operator of a vehicle to drive onto school property, but does not allow the operator to leave the firearm locked in the vehicle unattended. SB 229 would allow a law-abiding person to exercise their fundamental right to self-defense without fear of criminal prosecution. The CCR for SB 229 includes the following provisions:

  • Prohibits the use of public (taxpayer) funds to be used to conduct a gun “buyback” program

  • Allows a firearm that is legally and lawfully possessed to be locked, out of plain sight, in a vehicle while parked on school property

  • Removes the “roaming school zone” provision from law that was to be returned on the books as of July 1, 2014 – “roaming school zones” occur when a school function is held at another location not owned by the zoo (i.e. a field trip taking place at a zoo) – law-abiding handgun carry license holders could find themselves facing felony charges if they happened to be carrying a firearm at the same location a school was taking a field trip.
Law-abiding citizens should not face criminal prosecution for exercising a right protected by the Constitution. SB 229 is a huge step in the right direction towards keeping law-abiding Hoosiers from being unintentional felons.

Senate Bill 229 will now be sent to Governor Mike Pence for his approval.

Here is the Senate Enrolled Act 229.

The NRA story also reports that:

[D]uring this session, Senate Joint Resolution 9 passed in both legislative chambers of the General Assembly. Authored by state Senator Brent Steele (R-44) and sponsored by state Representative Mark Messmer (R-63), SJR 9 would guarantee Hoosiers the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. This proposed constitutional amendment would ensure the preservation of Indiana's rich hunting heritage for future generations. The language in SJR 9 also needs to be passed either next year or in 2016 to be eligible for the 2016 ballot.
[More] As the NRA story makes clear, SB 229 covers much more than guns in school parking lots. Read the bill for yourself.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 16, 2014 03:31 PM
Posted to Indiana Law