Young gun safety advocates clashed with an avowed gun-rights lawmaker on Tuesday in a 10-minute exchange that featured a brief showing of a holstered handgun.
The students and a chaperone told the The Statehouse File they felt threatened after Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, opened his coat and revealed his handgun.
Lucas, however, denied any intent to intimidate the students in comments to the Capital Chronicle on Wednesday.
He observed that about 20% of Hoosiers are licensed to carry, according to Indiana State Police, although a 2022 law removed the requirement for handguns.
“People that are carrying a gun are among us every day, everywhere, and I simply wanted to show them that I was one of those people,” he said. “There was no intimidation whatsoever. … I did not put my hand on my firearm. I did not make any threats.”
Lawmakers and their staff are allowed to carry in the Statehouse though citizens are not.
The students, from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, were visiting the Statehouse for an annual gun safety rally. They are members of Students Demand Action, one of the organizations hosting the event.
In a video a student recorded—which begins part-way through the interaction—Lucas said that, under high court decisions, police do not have a duty to protect a person from harm. That includes during school shootings.
“That means you’re on your own … when it comes to protecting [yourself],” he said.
Students noted that they can’t legally carry firearms because they are minors.
They went on to describe the fear of school shootings, including of false shooting threats.
“We shouldn’t have to live in fear,” argued parent chaperone Alison Case.
Lucas protested that more laws wouldn’t stop “people who aren’t being stopped by the hundreds of existing laws right now.”
About two minutes later into the conversation, he opened his jacket to reveal a handgun strapped to his torso, adding, “I’m carrying right now!”
“Nothing about that makes me feel safe, though,” one student responded.
The back-and-forth continued for about four minutes until Lucas grew visibly frustrated—calling the conversation “off the rails”—and walked away, wishing the group a good day.
One of the students, Makynna Fivecoats, told The Statehouse File that the handgun flash “felt like a threat.”
Indiana Democrats on Wednesday denounced Lucas’ actions.
“Indiana Republicans say laws can’t stop gun violence. They have no plan to stop gun violence because they do not believe it is possible,” Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmul said. “We all deserve an Indiana where students—and everyone in our communities—feel safe and gun-owning Hoosiers can do so safely and responsibly.”
On Facebook Wednesday, Lucas wrote that he feared for and pitied “those that are being indoctrinated to fear that which is their best means of self defense.”
Lucas told the Capital Chronicle that he was in the elevator alone when the group entered and that he started the conversation—by asking what brought them to the Statehouse—out of politeness.
“This is being intentionally blown out of proportion, as these issues generally are,” he said. “But the video should speak for itself.”
Lucas said that he hadn’t known he was being recorded, but added, “I stand by everything I said.”
It’s at least the second time Lucas has raised eyebrows by revealing he carries. In 2019, he told a room of constituents that he was carrying a gun as he responded to a sixth-grader’s question about gun safety, according to The Republic of Columbus, Indiana.
The student asked, “Do you believe the more guns that are being carried, including in this room, would make my classmates and I safer?”
Lucas immediately said “absolutely” and then told the crowd “I’m carrying right now. Does that scare anybody?”
Lucas pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors over the summer after he drove under the influence and crashed his vehicle—but successfully resisted calls to resign. Lucas has previously sparked controversy for statements on social media.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted The Republic newspaper of Columbus as saying Lucas showed his firearm to constituents during a meeting in 2019 in Columbus. In truth, Lucas only told them he was carrying a gun, according to The Republic. You can find other corrections and clarifications to IBJ stories here.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.