Friday, October 24, 2014

New state law to open more public buildings to firearms

Posted on July 1, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 1, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.

Starting today, local governments have significantly less power to limit the carrying of firearms in public places.

Among the many new state laws that take effect today is Senate Bill 292, the pre-emption of local firearm regulation. Except in certain circumstances, local political entities are no longer permitted to regulate firearms, ammunition or firearm accessories - including ownership, possession, carrying and transportation.

The legislation doesn't sit well with many local officials, who believe the Indiana General Assembly is constantly eroding cities' and towns' control over their own laws and standards.

"This is another law that should be left alone, should have left it decided at the local level," Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore said. "There were a whole bunch of laws in this year's legislature to destroy what little home rule we have."

Essentially, state firearm regulations are the ultimate law in Indiana, superseding any local limits. The bill's proponents at the statehouse said they wanted to prevent confusion among gun owners due to varying laws in different communities.

Critics of the legislation, though, worry that violent incidents involving firearms will rise as a result of looser gun restrictions. Cities and towns can no longer restrict the carrying of registered firearms in public places, unless the building contains a courtroom.

Municipalities can, however, restrict firearms for individuals without a valid license if the building has metal detectors at each public entrance and is staffed by at least one law enforcement officer.

Restrictions can also be placed in other circumstances, including banning firearms in a hospital with a secure correctional health unit, or forbidding the intentional display of a firearm at a public meeting.

The bill passed the House 77-21 and the Senate 38-12. All members representing Elkhart County supported it.

As a result, multiple local ordinances will have to change.

Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said the city's legal department is sifting through various laws, determining what is negated by the new state law. One that will have to change for sure, he said, is an ordinance preventing the carrying of firearms in public parks.

While Goshen doesn't have a law preventing firearm possession in public buildings, it does have an ordinance banning the firing of a gun in city limits. That restriction should survive, he said, but others won't.

"We still want to regulate the firing of firearms in the city limits," Kauffman said, "but not the carrying of."

Elkhart County has banned firearms in public buildings since 2001, after commissioner Marty McCloskey caused controversy and a public employee walk-out when he wore a gun on his hip to a meeting.

That law's days are numbered, county administrator Tom Byers said. What county officials are considering now is whether to eliminate the entire ordinance, or merely the firearms part. Modifying the ordinance would still restrict other deadly weapons from being carried into county buildings.

Regardless of any changes to the ordinance, the state law will still prevent firearms from being taken into the county courthouse in Goshen and the courts building in Elkhart.

Moore said he wasn't sure yet what the ramifications would be in Elkhart, though an ordinance not allowing guns on public property will likely need changes.

Kauffman said he's sympathetic to the rights of gun owners, but at the same time, isn't happy to see the state prevent cities from self-governing.

"I understand their right to carry, but I still think communities ought to have a right to determine for themselves," he said. "If the people of Goshen support an ordinance that you shouldn't have it in a public meeting, we should be able to do that."