INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers appear close to finishing legislation that will in part let Hoosiers bring guns onto school property – as long as they stay in locked cars.
Members of a House-Senate conference committee met behind closed doors Monday after a tense public meeting in which lawmakers battled with witnesses who oppose the legislation.
Shannon Watts is a mother of five who launched the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. She opposed letting Hoosiers bring guns onto school property under any situation.
“Easy and unregulated access to guns must be eliminated, not encouraged,” Watts said.
She was among a half dozen people who testified against the legislation, including educators who said they want local officials to decide whether guns are allowed on school property.
Lawmakers questioned opponents of the bill and challenged their statistics. And Watts – who rattled off a list of stats about gun violence – was the subject of much of the back and forth.
Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, went through Watts’ employment background, questioning her about her maiden name and then said that as a “professional marketer,” she would know how to manipulate statistics.
Other lawmakers – including Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford; Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville – also confronted her. That led Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, to tweet, “Bullying…it doesn’t just happen in schools.”
Later, Austin said some of the conference committee members went too far in their questioning of the opponents of the legislation. Generally, though, lawmakers were less harsh on educators.
Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said allowing guns on school property is “a major shift in policy.” He said principals often have meetings with students or parents that can become “very emotional” and giving people easy access to guns could be a problem.
And psychiatrist Stephen Dunlop, president of Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence, also said that access is a problem. “Anything that makes it easier, makes it more likely to happen,” he said.
But Republican lawmakers said that teachers and parents who carry guns in their vehicles for protection should be able to drive them onto school property and lock them in their cars.
Current law makes it a felony for Hoosiers to leave a gun locked in their vehicles on school grounds. Starting later this year, state law will also ban individuals from carrying guns in what are called “roaming school zones,” which are areas where school classes are taking place or where students are visiting such as a zoo.
The bill would remove the law’s school zone language. The conference committee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said the bill is aimed at ensuring that law-abiding Hoosiers don’t stumble into committing crimes.
Once the conference committee members settle on final legislation, the proposal goes back to the House and Senate for final approval.