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3/13/2018 11:10:00 AM
Debate over handguns in church continues in Indiana Legislature

Scott L. Miley, Washington Times Herald CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS —Legislation that would allow parishioners to carry handguns at church school facilities during worship sparked discussion during a legislative conference committee meeting Monday.

The provision would allow church schools to decide whether guns are allowed on their premises. Those that decide not to allow guns would have to post a sign barring them.

The measure was incorporated into House Bill 1214, which was written to address the seemingly unrelated topic of legalizing hemp and CBD oil. That language has been stripped from the bill because legislators can’t agree on CBD manufacturing standards.

Also sneaking into the bill was a provision replacing four-year handgun licenses with lifetime licenses for Hoosiers 18 and over.

Opposing the measure, a member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said the bill would place a burden on church schools.

School boards currently have discretion in allowing firearms on school property; the proposed law could make it easier to carry firearms at church schools.

“We would have to put up a sign saying no guns permitted. We’d have to make sure that everyone who entered the building was put on notice of that policy,” said Scott Severns, an attorney who is a St. Luke’s member.

“I take great comfort from that fact that I went through a screening process coming here today. There are safe places, and I certainly think a church ought to be one of them, and certainly schools ought to be one of them,” Severns said.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, who supports the bill, noted that churches have the ability to install metal detectors like those used at the Statehouse.

Kristen Balan-DiBella, a Westfield mother representing Moms Demand Action, said she would not feel safe dropping her children at their Catholic school if the legislation passed.

“I will be scared for the safety of my child. This is not ideological. This is not political. This is a mother pleading with you to help keep my children safe,” she told the committee.

But Barbara Maness, of Vevay, said she felt safer with Hoosiers being able to carry handguns at schools. She also said that she volunteers at a church school where she carries a gun with the principal’s knowledge.

“The desks would offer no protection at all to the children. The closet would also offer no protection. ... If someone thinks that there might be someone who can shoot back, they might think twice,” Maness said.

House Bill 1214, authored by Rep. William Friend, R-Macy, was written to legalize low-THC hemp extract products with no more than 0.3 percent THC. But the issue has run into snags as the legislature debated requirements for manufacturing, labeling and selling CBD products.

The original bill passed the House 93-0. It was amended in the Senate and passed 37-12. The House dissented from Senate amendments, leading to Monday’s four-hour hearing by the conference committee.

Last week, Senate Democrats called for a summer study committee to look at gun safety in the state. Under Senate Resolution 49, the study committee would consider Indiana’s background checks laws, banning assault weapons, raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21, and banning bump stocks.

The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the proposed permit changes, citing a likely decrease in permit fee revenue, which is often used for police training programs.

House Bill 1214 will now be considered by caucus members, who will decide whether to send it back to the House and Senate for a vote.

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