Bill to ease limits on handgun permits draws concerns

A proposal to lift Indiana's restrictions on alcohol offenders obtaining handgun licenses would remove one means of protecting victims, an advocate for domestic violence victims told state lawmakers Wednesday.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would change a law that puts a three-year prohibition on people with certain alcohol-related offenses from getting a handgun license, which is required to carry the weapons in public in most circumstances.

Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence lobbyist Kathy Williams told the committee that most police calls for domestic violence involve alcohol abuse.

"The combination of alcohol and access to handguns is a lethal combination in situations of domestic abuse," she said. "Given the very mild nature of the existing statute, it is only a small stop gap."

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, who is sponsoring the bill, said federal law prohibits anyone with felony convictions from obtaining a handgun license, but a license isn't required to buy a gun.

Under current state law, a person is deemed an "alcohol abuser" if they have two or more alcohol-related offenses, at least one of which resulted in a conviction or treatment in an alcohol abuse facility within the past three years.

Tomes said he didn't believe misdemeanor alcohol cases should bar someone from being licensed to carry a handgun and that repeated offenses often result in felony charges, such as a second drunken-driving arrest.

"When I think of alcohol abuser, I think about some guy who's a slobbering drunk who beats up his spouse all the time," he said. "There are cases where we're tying up good people"

The bill also would prohibit questions about drunken-driving violations on handgun license applications or in interviews but would leave intact the handgun license prohibitions on drug offenders.

The committee could vote next week on whether to advance the proposal to the full Senate.

This story will be updated.

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