Rising number of Hoosiers have permits to carry handguns


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Drizzt
April 29, 2003, 01:46 AM
Rising number of Hoosiers have permits to carry handguns

Brown County has highest rate in state; Monroe 88th

By Michael Koryta,
Hoosier Times

Stand in a crowd of 50 people in Brown County, and five of them might be carrying handguns. Walk past three-dozen shoppers in a Lawrence County store, and at least three of them will likely be armed.

Indiana was one of the first states to allow its residents to carry concealed weapons. Now, more Hoosiers are carrying handguns than ever before.

The Indiana State Police Division of Firearms Licensing reports there are more than 340,000 active weapons-carrying permits in the state. Many counties with the highest per capita carrying permit rates are in the Hoosier Times circulation area. The highest per capita rate is found in Brown County, where one of every 10 residents has a carrying permit.

Owen County, where one of every 11 residents has a carrying permit, has the third-highest rate; just a few tenths of a point behind is Greene County, which has the fourth-highest rate. Martin County ranks fifth and Lawrence County sixth, with one of every 12 residents holding a carrying permit. Morgan County is also in the top 10.

Meanwhile, Monroe County has one of the state's lower rates, with only one of every 26 residents holding a carrying permit.

Bruce Bryant, assistant administrator for the division of firearms licensing, said Indiana does not issue separate permits for carrying a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.

"You have one permit to carry, and that means you can carry it concealed or carry it out in the open," he said. "We'd recommend you carry it concealed."

The state issues two permits for carrying a weapon: a hunting and target-shooting permit and a personal protection permit. A permit remains active for four years after the issue date. Bryant said the majority of the permits issued in the state are personal protection permits.

"The protection permit allows you to take your weapon in the car, concealed on your person, really just about anywhere," Bryant explained. "But if you have the hunting permit and you're carrying the weapon around town, not for hunting purposes, that's a violation."

State law prohibits the public from carrying any weapon on school property or in government buildings. But most other public areas — unless signs are posted prohibiting firearms — are legal gun-toting territory.

Bryant said state and federal laws refuse the issuing of a gun permit to a convicted felon or anyone convicted of domestic battery. If someone has a protective order taken out against them, their gun permit will be suspended.

Before 1987, only seven states, including Indiana, had "shall issue" laws that require the state to issue firearm-carrying permits to applicants who met statewide standards. Now, 34 states have similar laws.

Handgun laws have long been a subject of heated debate. Dozens of organizations vehemently support the right for citizens to possess and carry weapons, while others lobby for increased restrictions and ask that handguns be banned completely.

This month, the Indiana Supreme Court made what many organizations considered to be a landmark decision in gun law issues.

The court's unanimous ruling declared that gun owners may be found liable for failing to store their guns safely if those guns are used to commit a crime.

The decision reversed the Allen Circuit Court's dismissal of a 1999 lawsuit against the owners of a handgun used to kill an Allen County sheriff's deputy. The dismissal had previously been upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Deputy Eryk Heck was killed in a shootout with Timothy Stoffer on Aug. 15, 1997. Stoffer, who also died from gunshot wounds, took the handgun from his parents. The Heck family sued Stoffer's parents, claiming the couple had failed to safeguard the gun despite knowing their son was fleeing from police and addicted to drugs.

"Indiana gun owners are guaranteed the right to bear arms," wrote Chief Justice Randall Shepard, "but this right does not entitle owners to impose on their fellow citizens all the external human and economic costs associated with their ownership."

The ruling means issues of gun negligence will now be left to juries in individual cases.

Just a day after the Indiana Supreme Court decision, national legislation protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits took a step forward. A bill granting gun dealers and manufacturers immunity from lawsuits was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was a response to several dozen lawsuits brought against gun manufacturers, including one filed by the northern Indiana city of Gary.

The bill was met with outrage from the gun control community. Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, issued a statement of disappointment.

"Gun manufacturers already exploit their exemption from federal health and safety regulation — pumping out lethal assault weapons, sniper rifles, and ultra-concealable 'pocket rocket' handguns," Rand said. "The gun industry innovates not for safety, but for lethality, designing and marketing guns with ever-increasing killing power."

Even as the legal battles over gun control issues are being waged, more and more Indiana residents are seeking gun permits. In most counties, the number of permits issued took a significant jump in 2001 before dropping off again in 2002, perhaps a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and fears of terrorism.

"We did have more people apply right after Sept. 11," Bryant said. "Generally, anytime there is a disaster, or maybe more murders and gang activity, we get a big run. When an incident occurs, people react to it."

John Baker, owner of Switz City Gun and Sports in Greene County, said he saw a small increase in handgun sales after the Sept. 11 attacks, but said business has been basically consistent in recent years.

"From September through December, we're selling shotguns and rifles fur hunting season," he said. "Then, from January and April on, we're having a lot of handgun sales. People use their tax refunds to buy handguns."

Baker said his most popular handguns are Glocks, a semi-automatic weapon. He said he has many female customers, and he generally recommends they take a small revolver.

"We sell a lot of handguns to women, and we always have," Baker said. "Usually husbands bring them in and say they want their wife to be protected. Sometimes we have women who are abused and want a gun. With women it's almost always protection issues."

Baker said he frequently carries a gun, and said having a gun with him at his store helped prevent robberies in the past.

David Cosner, owner of Cosner's Gun Shop in Bedford, agreed with Baker's analysis of steady business in recent years. He also said Glocks are among his most popular weapons.

Cosner said he carries a gun at all times. He, like Bryant of the state police, said he would advise concealing a weapon if you're going to carry it in public.

"Having them concealed is always better, because it doesn't make anyone nervous," Cosner said.

Plenty of argument exists over whether the right to carry a handgun increases crime. The National Rifle Association references FBI Crime Statistics in claiming states that issued gun-carrying permits have much lower violent crime rates, including the five states with the lowest violent-crime rates in the country.

A study conducted by John Lott Jr. in 1996 stated that "allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths."

However, the Web site of the Violence Policy Center references a study by John Donohue of Stanford: "Professor Donohue's study directly refutes Lott's findings and demonstrates that the concealed handgun laws (CCW) pushed by Lott and the NRA most likely caused more crime rather than the reduction in crime claimed by Lott."

Lott contends Donahue has distorted this data and altered the analysis time frame. Lott remains convinced that states that issue gun-carrying permits have falling crime rates.

"When these laws are passed, some criminals are deterred from attacks," Lott said. "Having a gun allows a course of action if you're attacked, and criminals know this. The states that issue the most gun permits have the biggest drop in violent crime."

Against that backdrop, more Hoosiers than ever before are buying handguns and seeking personal protection permits. And while the debate over whether such permits increase crime rages on, gun shop owner Cosner and many others will continue to rely on their own weapons for protection.

When asked whether he had ever been in a situation where he believed his weapon improved his safety, Cosner had a firm reply.

"You're damn right I have," Cosner said. "That's why I always carry a gun."

http://www.hoosiertimes.com/stories/2003/04/27/news.0427-SH-A1_JLR07388.sto

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