Lawmakers push looser gun laws

    FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana lawmakers appear determined to ease state gun regulations this year despite reservations from local officials and, some advocates say, gun owners themselves.
    ‘‘I wish the Legislature would spend more time making it harder for dangerous people to get guns rather than making it easier to have guns wherever you want,’’ said Paul Helmke, former Fort Wayne mayor and head of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
    A raft of bills that would relax gun restrictions is working its way through the Legislature, including bills that would allow handguns to be more freely carried without a permit and make it permissible to take guns into public buildings in most cases, The Journal Gazette reported.
    Senate Bill 292 essentially prohibits local governments, libraries and mass transit systems from regulating guns in any manner. That would eliminate prohibitions against guns in most municipal buildings and public parks.
    State law prohibiting guns on school grounds would stand. And the bill doesn’t prohibit state regulations on guns, such as state rules passed in 2007 banning guns from the Statehouse and adjoining government center, though lawmakers get an exception.
    There’s another exception for buildings with courts. But Helmke points out that zoning board meetings and other sessions also can get heated. The bill does allow governing bodies to restrict ‘‘the intentional display of a firearm at a public meeting.’’
    Randy Brown, general manager for Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum, expressed concern that the bill won’t allow the county-run coliseum board to ban weapons for certain events.
    ‘‘There are some events that are more high risk than others,’’ Brown said. ‘‘Legislating away our flexibility is a concern. We are asking for a disaster in this state.’’
    Supporters argue that events such as concerts and football games wouldn’t be covered because event goers agree to abide by certain rules when buying tickets.
    Brown said that isn’t clear in the bill.
    Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, the bill’s sponsor, said legislation is needed to give law-abiding gun owners a break from a patchwork of gun regulations around the state.
    ‘‘It’s a shame we’ve come to this, but people need to be able to protect themselves,’’ he said.
    The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House.
    ‘‘We may need to be more clear on some of the language,’’ said Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville. ‘‘We want this to be a good bill in the end.’’
    Another gun bill that has passed the full House would allow people to more freely carry handguns without permits, in their vehicle or on the property of someone who has given consent. Supporters say this would help hunters.  Currently, Hoosiers can have guns at their home or business with no permit. But they do need a permit to carry handguns elsewhere.
    Helmke said the bill is one step closer to ‘‘not having licensing at all.’’
    Tomes said there is no mention of having a license for guns in the Indiana or U.S. constitutions.
    ‘‘It would be nice but unlikely to get rid of licenses,’’ he said. ‘‘That would raise anxiety.’’
    Yet another bill that already has passed both chambers would prohibit employers from asking workers about guns and ammunition that they might have in their vehicles and  prevent them from requiring employees with weapons to park in separate areas.
    It’s related to a bill passed last year that barred employers from prohibiting employees from having weapons in their vehicles on company parking lots.
    Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, voted against the bill, saying the Legislature was wrong in deciding that individual gun rights trump employers’ property rights. “I’m just trying to be practical,” he said.
    Helmke said a recent poll conducted by Republican and Democratic polling firms in Indiana and four other states found those surveyed supported keeping gun laws the way they are.
    In Indiana gun-owning households, The Journal Gazette said, only 9 percent wanted less strict gun laws; 42 percent said the laws should be stricter; and 45 percent supported keeping the laws the same.
    Information from: The Journal Gazette,