A proposal to repeal the state's handgun licensing law was dumped Wednesday by an Indiana House committee in the face of opposition from several police organizations.
The House Public Policy Committee voted 12-1 Wednesday in favor of an overhauled bill that keeps the current handgun licensing process while eliminating what are now fees of up to $125 for a lifetime permit to carry a handgun in public.
The committee's action sidesteps what could've become a contentious debate over repealing the permit law that supporters argue infringes on the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment by forcing gun owners to get fingerprinted, submit to a police background check and pay the licensing fees.
Law enforcement groups maintain the permitting process is an important tool for helping make sure anyone carrying a handgun is legally allowed to do so. Those with felony or domestic battery convictions can be barred from obtaining a license.
Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Timothy Wesco of Osceola said a full repeal of the permit law faced some opposition among legislators.
"Obviously, that was not a slam dunk, so we're glad to make some steps forward," Wesco said.
The bill, which goes to the full House for consideration, would keep a $40 licensing fee for a new five-year handgun permit when taking effect in July 2019.
Wesco said some gun owners might want to obtain that permit as it would exempt them from having to undergo new criminal background checks when buying firearms during that period, which is the maximum time between background checks allowed under federal law.
Another concern is the loss of licensing fee revenue, about a third of which goes to city and county police departments for training and equipment. Wesco said an estimate wasn't yet available on the revenue loss, which a legislative report projected a nearly $11 million loss under a full repeal.
Outspoken permit repeal supporter Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour said he was "going to hold my nose" by voting in favor of Wesco's bill and that he would continue to push the issue.
"I am absolutely appalled and disgusted that the state is concerned about revenue on the licensing of a constitutional right," Lucas said. "Under current Indiana law, we are criminalizing innocent people for exercising their constitutional right."
Nearly 835,000 people had active Indiana handgun permits at the start of this year, according to state police statistics. The agency approved 72,061 permits during 2017, while rejecting 3,403 applications.
Police organizations and gun control advocates were satisfied with the bill by retaining the licensing process.
"The ability to vet candidates prior to the handgun permit is a valuable resource to law enforcement in capturing some of those that should not have permits and be allowed to carry firearms out in our communities," said Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer, president of the Indiana Sheriffs Association.
Becke Bolinger of Indianapolis, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said she didn't regard the permit fee as a burden for those who can afford to buy guns and that it would be wrong to repeal the state permit while mass shootings continue happening around the country.
"Something has to change and having a gun permit does nothing but keep people safe," she said.