"We have become a major gun-running state in this country,” says Rep. David Orentlicher (D-Indianapolis) about Indiana.
Throughout his career in the state Legislature, Orentlicher, who is both a physician and an attorney, has attempted to amend Indiana’s gun laws, which are widely considered among the most lax in the nation. The Brady Center for the Control of Gun Violence gives Hoosier gun regulation an “F.” In 2006, the homicide rate in Indianapolis was up 54 percent over the previous year. Guns were the weapons of choice in the vast majority of those deaths.
“It’s unfortunate that not only do we do very little to reduce gun violence by regulating gun purchases and ownership,” Orentlicher says, “but to the extent that legislative proposals are likely to succeed they’re likely to weaken whatever regulation we have.”
For example, legislation is being reintroduced this session, after almost passing last year, that would prohibit employers and homeowners from banning guns on their property. And, during last year’s session, legislation did pass enabling gun owners to have lifetime permits. “We don’t give lifetime permits to drive,” Orentlicher says. “Now you don’t have to worry about not being able to pass a background check once you’ve got your lifetime permit.”
Orentlicher is making three proposals this legislative session to try and bring some measure of common sense to Indiana’s gun regulations. The first would limit gun enthusiasts to one handgun purchase per month. The idea, he says, was inspired by similar legislation in Virginia. “They found a high percentage of crimes committed in the Northeast United States were being done with guns that came from Virginia. It was easy to buy guns in Virginia; you could buy 20 guns, drive up I-95 and resell them.” Then Virginia limited handgun sales to one per month. Crimes involving handguns dropped off in the Northeast.
Indiana is now serving gunrunners the way Virginia used to. Guns sold here are being resold out of state.
“According to federal statistics, we have two or three of the top 10 sources of guns used in violent crimes in this country,” Orentlicher says. “Somebody can legally buy 20 guns, go out and resell them to people who would not pass a background check. It’s a simple way to evade the very important background check system we’ve established and we need to close that loophole off.”
A second proposal would close the loophole that makes it possible for people to buy guns at gun shows without having to go through a background check.
Orentlicher’s third proposal may be his most far-reaching. It would reinstate the concept of local control to counties — a principle that obtained in Indiana until the mid-1990s. “In Marion County, where we have serious gun violence, we ought to have different rules,” Orentlicher observes. “Local control is very important. If Marion County wants to have stricter gun regulation than Vanderburgh County or Posey County, we ought to give them that option.”
Orentlicher hopes his effort to reinstate the principle of local control might help legislators from other parts of the state see gun regulation from a less threatening perspective. “Maybe they’ll recognize I’m not threatening the gun owners in most of the state. All I’m saying is let Marion County have the ability to deal with the surge of gun violence. Let Gary have the ability to deal with high levels of gun violence.”
Orentlicher believes it’s crucial the state Legislature engages in a public conversation about gun regulation. “I think it’s very important for legislators to understand what we’re facing in Marion County. To hear from families who have lost children and other relatives because of gun violence.”
Orentlicher urges citizens who want these issues discussed in the Statehouse to call on their state legislators. (To contact a legislator, go to the homepage for the General Assembly at in.gov/legislative.)