Democrats objected to a proposal approved by an Indiana Senate committee Wednesday that would eliminate fees and make changes to the handgun licensing process, suggesting it was the wrong time to loosen gun laws in the wake of a Florida high school shooting.
The bill is backed by gun-rights enthusiasts who argue restrictions such as licensing fees infringe on their Second Amendment rights. But the bill has been significantly watered down from an initial proposal, which would have eliminated the need for obtaining a handgun license.
The measure previously sailed through the House. But Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson said "everything has changed" since 17 people were killed at the school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.
"You can't fault us from looking at the perspective of these bills differently," Lanane said Wednesday on the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that it is a tough time to consider gun bills.
The bill, in its current form, would eliminate fees charged for a lifetime handgun license and extend Indiana's four-year handgun license to five years.
That would enable those with such a license to qualify for a federal exemption allowing them to undergo only one background check during that period, regardless of how many handguns they purchase—a practice more than two dozen other states have already adopted.
Those holding a lifetime handgun license, however, would still have to undergo background checks for each purchase.
While Republicans on Indiana's Senate Judiciary Committee said the protests following the Florida shooting gave them pause, they opted to vote 7-3 in favor of the bill.
"Recent events will cause us all to do a little bit more soul searching, but keep in mind some of the facts," said Sen. Michael Delph, R-Carmel, adding that it was FBI that failed people of Florida for not acting on a tip that warned about the shooter.
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, called for police to be stationed in every school.
"We need to harden these targets and we'll put a stop to this," Freeman said, without elaborating further.
Law enforcement groups have raised concerns about the bill because it would eliminate a stream of funding from handgun permits that they use for equipment and training, including mass-shooting drills for schools.
Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer, president of the Indiana Sheriffs Association, said the association supports the bill but needs assurance from the legislature for the funding.
"Training and equipment dollars are the essential part of our ability to continue to provide public safety. It's that simple," he said.
Lawmakers have pledged to backfill that money, which a legislative report projected at nearly $11 million under a full repeal, in next year's budget. They have also delayed the elimination of the fee until 2019.
The National Rifle Association of America backs the bill and its fee-reduction component, according to Chris Kopacki, who represented the association at the hearing Wednesday.