Assault-gun ban unlikely
Survey of state lawmakers shows many wary of limits on weapons
By Mary Beth Schneider, Michele McNeil Solida and John Strauss
August 22, 2004
Many Indiana lawmakers say they wouldn't ban assault weapons, despite last week's shooting rampage that left one Indianapolis policeman dead and four wounded.
But calls last week to more than half of the state's 150 legislators found much more interest in finding ways to keep guns out of the hands of people such as Kenneth C. Anderson, a schizophrenic who used an SKS military-style rifle to kill Patrolman Timothy "Jake" Laird during 16 terror-filled minutes early Wednesday morning.
One big question, many said, was whether a state government can do anything without trampling on the constitutional right to bear arms. It's a right that many of the lawmakers exercise themselves -- about six out of 10 of those contacted by The Indianapolis Star said they own guns.
"Banning guns would not solve the problem," said Rep. John Frenz, a Vincennes Democrat. "Would it have been better if (Anderson) had killed his mother with an ax and gone after the police with an ax?"
Favoring a ban was Sen. Lawrence M. Borst, R-Greenwood, who said he thinks it's past time to halt the sales on the kind of weapon Anderson wielded. "I'm all for it. I don't know why it wasn't done a long time ago," he said.
Borst, though, won't get a chance to vote for a measure if it does come to the Senate floor. He was defeated in the May primary election.
Confiscate, not ban
The Star tried to reach all 150 of Indiana's lawmakers Thursday and Friday. Of the 84 who were contacted, nearly four out of 10 were adamantly opposed to a statewide ban on military-style assault weapons, and just more than a quarter favored a ban.
Lawmakers were far more willing to find a way to confiscate weapons from mentally ill or dangerous people. Nearly half favored giving police more discretion to do that.
Many said they were troubled that police had taken away Anderson's arsenal of weapons on Jan. 20 only to return them in March because they had no legal standing to hold them any longer. Police had seized the cache of rifles, pistols and ammunition after Anderson, combative and rambling about his fears that people were trying to kill him, was taken to a hospital.
Police legal advisers said they had no recourse but to return the guns -- despite their fears -- because Anderson was neither a felon nor ever had been deemed mentally unstable by the courts.
"We've got to have more effective ways to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on guns," said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
Rep. David Orentlicher, an Indianapolis Democrat, is both an attorney and physician.
"Clearly the laws are insufficient," he said. "As a doctor, you're always looking for ways to prevent injury. As a lawyer, you could go either way on this. I do believe there is an individual right to bear arms under the Constitution. But the fact that there's a right doesn't prevent reasonable regulation."
Senate President Pro Tempore Robert D. Garton, R-Columbus, said he understood arguments both in favor of and against a ban on assault weapons. But he didn't think that kind of legislation would pass in Indiana.
Indiana lawmakers have been reluctant to expand gun control.
In 1993, lawmakers debated a measure that would have barred guns from many government buildings, including the Statehouse. It was killed after a show of hands in one committee hearing revealed both lawmakers and spectators admitted they were carrying guns. Lawmakers might have been worried about the spectators -- but they didn't want to disarm themselves.
Sen. Murray Clark, R-Indianapolis, was among those who said an assault weapons ban might be right in some areas -- such as the existing ban in Gary -- but not in others. For that reason, he thinks it should remain up to local communities.
That's the way it was until 1994, when the legislature, with the backing of the National Rifle Association, stripped local communities of the right to enact most gun-control ordinances. The move killed an ordinance that had been approved in South Bend and ended the debate on one being considered in Indianapolis. Only the existing Gary and East Chicago ordinances remain in effect.
Last year, the legislature almost passed a sweeping gun immunity law that would have made gun owners free of nearly all liability if their guns were misused. That bill was watered down considerably, extending immunity only to those gun owners whose firearms are misused after they've been stolen.
Several lawmakers said they don't believe Indiana needs to take action, saying this is a federal issue because many assault weapons are already banned under a federal law passed in 1994.
The federal law bars the production and sale of 19 kinds of assault weapons, but it doesn't include the SKS, which Anderson used to kill Laird. And unless Congress acts, the federal law will expire at midnight Sept. 13.
Sen. Kent Adams, a Bremen Republican and former Indiana State Police trooper, thinks discretion is an important part of police work. But other lawmakers are unsure how to determine who is too unstable to have a gun.
And many are reluctant to give police too much power.
Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, is solidly in favor of a ban on assault weapons and has never owned a gun. Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, is solidly opposed to a weapons ban and does own a gun.
Determining who's safe
Both share a concern about giving police too much discretion to confiscate weapons.
"That's tricky," Crawford said. "Who determines who is dangerous and mentally ill?"
Koch agreed. "Unless police are capable of administering psychiatric exams, I don't know that we can give them that kind of discretion," he said.
State Rep. Charlie Brown is a Democrat from Gary, one of only two cities in the state with ordinances on the books banning assault weapons. Brown called a ban on such weapons "a no-brainer."
"Nobody is going hunting with assault weapons," he said.
Many lawmakers said it isn't their place to question why a law-abiding individual needs an assault rifle.
"Some people collect Avon bottles. Some people collect coins. Some people collect guns," said Sen. Rose Ann Antich-Carr, D-Merrillville.
Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, doesn't need time to think about his stance on gun-control issues. "No rule, law or regulation is going to stop someone from murdering someone or committing suicide," he said.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he would vote for a state ban on assault weapons. "I don't think there's political support to do that, though," he said.
Call Star reporter Mary Beth Schneider at (317) 444-2772.
Legislators’ opinions on gun control
Most lawmakers are reluctant to enact strict bans on weapons, but they are more willing to examine the issue of keeping weapons from the mentally ill. The Star asked many of Indiana’s 150 lawmakers whether they support a ban on assault weapons, whether they want police to have more discretion in keeping guns from the dangerous or mentally ill, and whether they own a gun.
Ban assault weapons?
Give police more discretion?
Own a gun?
Undecided/want more information
Source: Individual lawmakers
I wonder if the Star would release the names associated with each vote? It would be quite interesting too see I think.
But the Star ISNT biased to the left or so Im told by a "Dear" friend.
Oh Lucy, here they go again.
Read tomorrow's Indianapolis Star for more details about this story.
Chickenek, you are much too kind.
QS is gonna love this...one of his professors this semester is none other than Mrs. Pierce...this lovely man's wife:
"Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he would vote for a state ban on assault weapons. "I don't think there's political support to do that, though," he said."
He is gonna have fun in her class, I'm sure.