Constitutional Carry facing uncertain path in Indiana Senate

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

A permitless carry bill passed out of the House of Representatives in Indiana this week, but the prospects for the legislation in the Senate appear to be more dubious. That was the same story last year, when Constitutional Carry language died after it failed to receive a hearing in a key Senate committee.

Supposedly this year those hangups had been resolved, but one Second Amendment activist in the state is now sounding a note of caution.

Will Fite, legislative director of Hoosier Gun Rights, said he met with Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Brown had declined to hold a hearing on last year’s constitutional carry bill, preventing it from being considered by the Senate. But this year, she has authored her own constitutional carry bill, along with Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, and Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen.

“I can tell you that she was not overly friendly toward this issue,” said Fite, who went described Brown as seeming “openly hostile” to constitutional carry legislation during Monday’s meeting.

A staffer in Brown’s office said Tuesday he thought Brown was planning to hold a hearing on Senate Bill 14 – her bill – but did not respond to email for confirmation.

What’s going on here? You can take a look at the language of SB 14 for yourself, and it’s clear that this isn’t some poison pill piece of legislation designed to deceive gun owners. If it was, it wouldn’t have received the backing of senators like Jim Tomes and Blake Doriot, both of whom have strong 2A records in the legislature.

It may be that Brown signed on a co-sponsor to give herself a little cover and room to maneuver during the session, but with 2A supporters already feeling burnt by what happened to the permitless carry legislation last year, they’re looking for ways to cut her and the Judiciary Committee out of the process of passage.

As of late Tuesday, supporters of constitutional carry legislation, including Hoosier Gun Rights and The 2A Project, had switched their strategy, and instead of asking supporters to call Brown’s office to pressure her to schedule a hearing, are now telling supporters that the most important thing is to get the leader of the Senate, Sen. Rodric Bray, R- Martinsville, to send H.B. 1077 to either the Senate’s Corrections and Criminal Law Committee or the Public Policy Committee, thus bypassing Brown’s Judiciary Committee.

“What I’m hearing from Republican senators is they want to get it done,” said Fite. “Everyone is looking at 1077 as, this is the bill. This is how we’re going to get constitutional carry passed in Indiana.”

This strategy has its own issues, however, because media reports last year indicated that Brown may have bypassed the permitless carry bill in 2021 at the request of… Sen. Rodric Bray.

Bray said the bill has major flaws that led numerous organizations to oppose it, including the Indiana State Police, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, the Indiana State Police Alliance, as well as pro-Second Amendment groups the National Association of Gun Rights and Hoosier Gun Rights.

He said one key concern is a “poison pill” provision that creates another government database meant to show officers who should not be carrying a gun rather than who should.

Current Indiana law prohibits some Hoosiers from getting a permit – such as those with a felony conviction or a mental illness.

“These groups have said that, due to a variety of reasons including the current state of technology and federal laws governing the use of and access to information, creation of such a database is not possible at this time,” Bray said. “Law enforcement believes being able to access this information in the middle of the night during a traffic stop is important and thus, so do I. The bottom line is law enforcement’s ability to determine who is prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon is important, and this bill does not achieve that.”

Making matters even more confusing, Indiana 2A activist and attorney Guy Relford disputed that there was a poison pill in last year’s legislation.

“This is an outright lie. H.B. 1369 did not mandate any new ‘database’ at all and certainly did NOT contain a ‘poison pill,’” he said in a Facebook post. “The bill simply required a ‘process’ for getting information in existing criminal history databases, … to an officer on the street. That process could be as simple as a radio call or an email.”

Regardless of whether or not that provision was good or bad, it’s not contained in HB 1077, which is the permitless carry bill approved by the House this week. It’s also not a part of SB 14, so it remains a puzzle as to what problem Brown might have with a bill that she herself is co-sponsoring. It’s also unclear what the path forward looks like. Will Bray move the House bill to a friendlier committee? If not, then it would appear that the biggest roadblock for Constitutional Carry in Indiana isn’t the Senate Judicary Committee, but the Senate president himself.