Elkhart County lawmakers foresee Newtown-inspired debate at statehouse

The Newtown, Conn., shootings will likely be a topic of debate in the coming Indiana legislative session, say members of Elkhart County's delegation, though that doesn't necessarily mean there'll be any legislation.
Posted on Dec. 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

Washington, D.C., and kitchen tables around the country aren't the only places where the Newtown, Conn., massacre is generating debate.

The topic will likely be a focus of discussion among Indiana lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session, say members of Elkhart County's delegation to Indianapolis. Whether the talk translates into new legislation, however, remains to be seen.

“We'll discuss it, no doubt about it, and we should discuss it,” said State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury. “We've got to look at it. That's our job.”

Many across the United States are clamoring for tightened regulation of guns in the wake of the Connecticut shootings, which left 20 schoolchildren and six educators dead. In a new CNN poll, done post-Newtown, 52 percent of respondents across the country favor major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal, up from the usual figure in prior polls of just less than 50 percent.

More coverage: Local leaders make the case for gun control and against gun control.

That hardly means new gun-control laws are necessarily in the offing here, though, or that it's the only relevant issue at play in the aftermath of Newtown. Indiana, generally, is a pro-gun rights state, judging by recent changes prohibiting locales from having stricter gun rules than the state and another law letting workers bring guns to work if they're locked and hidden in their parked vehicles. Likewise, Elkhart County's delegation to Indianapolis, by and large, gets high marks from gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association.

Indeed, as Yoder sees it, the germane issue isn't gun control, but what would have made somebody — alleged gunman Adam Lanza in this case — go to the extreme of killing 20 children. Mental illness, desensitization to violence brought on by violent video games? Some underlying societal fracture?

“To me the key issue is how could somebody do something that heinous,” he said. “That goes far beyond the issue of gun control. ... What causes somebody in society to go that crazy?”

Indiana Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, hinted, generally, at the possibility of debate on a range of issues. Mental health care. School safety. Assuring that guns, per existing legislation, stay out of the hands of people who aren't supposed to have them.

Maybe there could be more.

“I think there's some compromise that can be found with regard to possession of arms,” he said.

Indeed, the Indiana House's Public Policy Committee would be the probable starting point for action, and the chairman of the committee, Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, told Neese that he anticipates “weapons-related legislation” this session, Neese said.


Still, Neese, at the same time, pointed out several gun-control laws already on the books in Indiana, seemingly to show that checks on gun ownership here are already in place.

One 2002 law lets police confiscate any weapons when responding to a domestic violence call, while a 2003 law prohibits gun ownership by those convicted of domestic violence. A 2009 law mandates that the names of people deemed by a court to be potentially unfit to own a gun due to mental health issues be forwarded for placement in a federal database.

State Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, senses sentiment for action in the wake of Newtown. “People want to do something. They're not quite certain what it is,” he said.

In his estimation, one key issue is to make sure schools are secure. Maybe the upshot of everything will be a summer study commission to delve into some aspect of the issue, perhaps school safety. “It's important to ensure safety of kids in our schools. How best to do that, I think, will be discussed,” he said.

New gun laws — he's not so sure.

Making sure that background checks on would-be gun buyers “are meaningful” is also important, he said. A new gun law, meanwhile, “would be done very cautiously, if at all.”


According to the Elkhart Police Department, there have been six incidents thus far this year in Elkhart involving use of firearms that have led to gunshot victims. Suicides aren't included.

In Goshen, three separate incidents involving gunshots so far this year have led to one death and two injuries, according to the Goshen Police Department. There were four reports of buildings and two reports of autos being struck by gunfire and two additional reports of weapons being fired during altercations, leading to no injuries.


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