Send in the clowns: Indianapolis's new unenforceable gun ordinances are an act of political theater

(AP PhotoMatthew Brown, File)

While the Indianapolis Star calls the slate of local gun regulations adopted by the city council on Monday night “aspirational”, a better term for the anti-gun package is “performative political theater.”

Mayor Joe Hogsett, who’s running for re-election this year and trying to beef up his anti-2A bona fides in the process, claims that the new ordinances are desperately needed in the city, and would be enforced going forward if not for those darned Republicans at the statehouse who refuse to repeal Indiana’s firearm preemption law. All of his fellow Democrats on the council voted in favor of the new and unenforceable provisions while the handful of Republican council members were in opposition, though there was unanimity when it came to a proposal with some actual substance to it: spending some $225,000 to help fund three additional federal prosecutors who can focus on charging and convicting violent offenders in federal court, where sentences are typically stiffer.

If allowed by state law, Hogsett would like to ban assault weapons, as defined by the proposed 2023 federal Assault Weapons Ban. The proposal also would ban carrying a handgun without a permit, concealed carry of a firearm and prohibits those under 21 from purchasing a firearm, unlike the state limit of 18 years old.

All five Republican councilors voted against the gun control measures.

“I’m voting against this because I disagree with the toothless language and the policy itself, but also because it likely violates state statute and the state constitution,” Council Minority Leader Brian Mowery said during the council meeting, saying that the Indiana Office of the Attorney General’s opinion is that the proposal violates the state preemption law.

Numerous Democratic councilors made an impassioned plea for the state to pass stricter gun regulation and spoke in support of what many called commonsense gun laws in the proposal.

Councilor La Keisha Jackson delivered an emotional testimony as she shared how she survived the October 2015 Washington Square Mall shooting in Indianapolis, where she was injured, not from a gunshot, running away from the shooter and endured nine months of physical and occupational therapy.

“I said, Lord, my prayer, was, don’t let my mother come up here and identify my body,” Jackson said. She added, “These are the fears we have to walk around with.”

Tensions ran high as the Democratic and Republican councilors clashed.

After Mowery made his comments, Democratic councilor Ali Brown said, “You may call this toothless. This is us taking a stand because it’s too much….Everyday we hear about gun violence in our city. We need to do something.”

How about doing something that actually has a chance of reducing violent crime instead of grandstanding for gun control laws that are utterly unenforceable and largely unconstitutional? Maybe, say, increasing the number of police officers on the street? Under Hogsett’s watch, staffing levels in the Indianapolis P.D. have dropped by hundreds of officers. Back in April, the local Fox affiliate in Indy reported that the city’s budget allows for 1,843 officers, but only has 1,554 men and women in uniform. That’s a larger staffing shortfall than even the Indiana State Police is seeing at the moment, and it’s hard to argue that the shortage of officers on the street isn’t having an impact on violent crime in the state’s largest city.

So what happens next? The short answer is “nothing”. Unlike other Democrats like Columbus, Ohio City Attorney Zack Klein, who’s challenging preemption laws by enforcing municipal ordinances and hoping the courts will allow them to stand, Hogsett and the city council apparently have no plans to try to enforce their own “aspirational” measures. But Hogsett is clearly hoping to make gun control a campaign issue in this year’s mayoral elections, and it sounds like his Republican challenger isn’t shying away from a debate over public safety.

“It’s remarkable how much Joe Hogsett has to say now that it’s an election year,” a campaign spokesperson for Shreve, Jennifer Erbacher, said Monday in response to questions about Shreve’s stance on Hogsett’s plan and the council vote.

Shreve has advocated for the city to reinstate the public safety director position, a role that Hogsett scrapped when he took office in 2016 as part of bureaucratic restructuring that made him de facto head of public safety.

Shreve is expected to announce his plan for public safety this month, according to his campaign spokesperson.

Whatever Shreve’s plan is, I hope it contains more than wishful thinking and scapegoating legal gun owners for the actions of violent criminals. Having an actual public safety director instead of placing that responsibility in the hands of the mayor’s office would be a good start, but Shreve also needs a strategy to stop the hemorrhaging of departures at the Indianapolis P.D. and a commitment to targeted deterrence efforts aimed at the city’s most violent and prolific offenders if he truly wants to provide a stark choice for voters: try to reduce crime by restricting the rights of the law-abiding, or crack down on those who are actually responsible for the shootings, armed robberies, carjackings, and home invasions in the city.