Indiana "blew it" by not enforcing a gun ban against a man who was armed when he was arrested in California while traveling to a gay pride event, a state Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday while advocating for stricter gun controls.
James Wesley Howell, 20, was ordered in April to forfeit all firearms under the terms of his yearlong probation on a misdemeanor intimidation conviction, for allegedly pulling a gun and making threats against a neighbor in southern Indiana.
It's unclear whether Howell obtained the three assault rifles found on him in Los Angeles on June 12 after the judge's order or whether he had them before it was issued, state Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said during a news conference outside of the Statehouse.
"Every step of the way we blew it," said DeLaney, who is up for re-election in November and said he'll propose legislation for the GOP-dominated General Assembly to consider next session. "… I can't get down into saying what an individual judge or probation officer did wrong. But the system failed top to bottom."
Clark County chief probation officer James Hayden declined to comment on DeLaney's comments, but previously told The Associated Press that probation officials had rated Howell a low-level offender regarding the recent misdemeanor. A probation officer met with Howell in May but that officer had yet to schedule an in-home visit by the time Howell made it to California, he said.
Probation officers typically track more than 100 offenders and their challenges could increase as recent changes in state sentencing laws are directing more people to probation and community corrections programs rather than jail or prison, Hayden said.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, could not be reached for comment, and several Republican members of the Indiana Senate were either out of town or also could not be reached for comment.
Howell, who is from Jeffersonville, faces weapons and ammunition charges stemming from his arrest in Santa Monica, California, hours after the deadly attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Police found in Howell's car a loaded assault rifle with magazines rigged to allow 60 shots to be fired in quick succession and 15 pounds of chemicals mixed and ready to explode. He also had two other loaded rifles, ammunition, a stun gun, a buck knife and a security badge.
Howell faces a child molestation charge in Indiana, allegations a local prosecutor said apparently spurred his cross-country journey to Los Angeles.
DeLaney criticized Indiana's "very, very limited" gun laws and said he wants to introduce bills that would ban large ammunition clips and "automatic military-type" weapons. He said he would also seek increased funding for county probation programs due to the new state sentencing laws.
Guy Relford, the owner of Tactical Firearms Training in Indianapolis and a Second Amendment attorney, called DeLaney's gun-control proposals a knee-jerk reaction to the Orlando shootings, in which 49 people died. He said DeLaney "simply doesn't understand anything about firearms."
Relford said the U.S. had a "so-called assault weapons" ban from 1994 to 2004 and a study by the National Institute of Justice—the U.S. Department of Justice's research, development and evaluation agency — found it had "no measurable effect on crime."
"Every time we have a mass shooting what these politicians want to do is to turn around and take guns out of the hands of everybody who didn't do it," Relford said.