Indiana legislative staff adjust to changes in gun-carrying law

Hundreds of legislative employees can now carry handguns at the Indiana Statehouse and adjacent state office buildings, but with some limitations.

Lawmakers passed a measure this year, allowing those who work for the House, Senate, Legislative Services Agency and Lobby Registration Commission to bring guns to work with a valid state permit. The measure affects more than 470 employees.

"It's a constitutional right. I think everyone's right to protection should be recognized in the Statehouse," said Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, one of the new law's sponsors. "Legislators aren't any different than the people. Our lives are no more important."

A section of both the House and Senate policies say employees are prohibited from bringing handguns into any meeting related to personnel matters, including evaluations, disciplinary action and human resource discussions. Employees are expected to leave any guns at home in such situations. They can also be disciplined for "reckless behavior with a handgun, including accidental discharge or open carry of a handgun."

State law previously allowed judges, police officers and members of the Legislature to carry weapons in the Statehouse, but state regulations banned anyone else from having deadly weapons within the state government complex buildings.

At least 20 other states allow firearms on Statehouse grounds in some fashion, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.

But most publicly visible and large companies with a diverse set of employees don't permit guns in the workplace, said Christopher Schrader, government affairs director for Indiana State Council of Society of Human Resource Management. The possibility of the presence of firearms during tense personnel situations would worry human resources professionals, he said.

Republican House Majority Leader Matt Lehman of Berne said legislative staffers often work late and security officers aren't always around when it's dark. But he supported the limitations included in staff policies.

"If there's any time you are going to be in a situation where it could be confrontational, we want to eliminate anything where someone might respond irrationally," Lehman told the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne.

State law allows people with a license to carry a handgun in public, but doesn't specify whether it is a concealed or open-carry permit.

Opponents of the Statehouse handgun policy change worry about allowing guns in any workplace, noting that uncomfortable conversations sometimes occur in workplace settings and tensions can run high.

"I manage people at my real job and I know that can be intimidating if you're a manager and you have an employee that you might need to discipline," Democratic Rep. Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne told The Indianapolis Star. "Sometimes with the added pressure here … tempers can fly at night."

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