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Proposed Legislation Would Lower Penalty For Guns In Schools

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Photo: flickr (Miserlou Behind The Aperture)

Currently, carrying a gun on school property is a level six felony.

Carrying a gun on school property is currently a level six felony, which carries a potential sentence of more than two years in prison.

Rep. Jim Lucas’, R-Seymour, proposed legislation would lower the penalty from a felony to a class A misdemeanor.

He says his bill is aimed at addressing scenarios in which Hoosiers could be charged with a crime for an entirely unintentional act.

“And as we all now, felonies can destroy people’s lives,” Lucas said. “They can’t vote, they’re no longer able to defend themselves, they can’t hold office and for something that’s unintentional, I think that’s way too strict of a punishment.”

Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a former police officer who’s part of the legislative effort rewriting Indiana’s criminal code, says there’s no reason to lower the penalty.

“It would be a really easy excuse if you were going there to create some kind of mischief to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you know what?  I forgot that’s in my back pocket,’” Lawson said. ” I think if people understand and just know school property is off limits that that is the way to handle that.”

Lucas is the same lawmaker who, last session, proposed language that would have required each Indiana school to have at least one armed staff person.

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  • Ken Pimple

    Has Rep. Lucas ever heard of the plea bargain?

    The danger associated with carrying a gun on school grounds is serious enough to warrant a felony penalty. People who forget whether they’re packing should not be allowed to own guns at all.

  • Jim Lucas

    Mr. Pimple, yes I have heard of a plea bargain. However, the representative for Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys that testified during the committee hearing acknowledged that A) They rarely charge it as a felony and B) it is bargained down to a misdemeanor. He also acknowledged that it costs several thousands of dollars in attorney fees to get this done. My question to him was the reason for having it as a felony if it was rarely, if ever used. Imaginary boundaries should not determine if a person is a felon or not (and have their lives ruined or incur great expense), their actions should. Plus, people intent on doing evil things, whether on school property or not, do not obey laws.

  • Ken Pimple

    Rep. Lucas: Thank you for your reply. Since you are only seeking to reduce the penalty, and not revoke the law altogether, it appears that you and I agree that carrying firearms on school grounds should be illegal and the only question is whether it should be a misdemeanor or felony offense.

    It isn’t clear from what you say whether the “several thousands of dollars in attorney fees” accrue to the defendant or the state. Perhaps it is both.I acknowledge that the cost of enforcing a law is a legitimate concern, but it certainly cannot be the sole consideration. In this case, perhaps a steep lawyer’s fee to get a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor would teach a defendant to be more mindful of the responsibilities entailed with carrying a deadly weapon.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “imaginary boundaries.” Are school grounds delimited only in the imagination? Perhaps you mean “invisible” boundaries. I doubt that you mean that boundaries are irrelevant to behavior. If that were the case, we could not keep minors out of bars. Carrying a firearm is certainly an action, and it is more unwise to do so within some boundaries than others.

    I grant that “people intent on doing evil things … do not obey laws.” Deterrence is only one goal of criminal law, and probably the least effective. If nothing else, having a law against carrying firearms in certain areas gives honest citizens a warrant to call the police. Better to do so when the firearm is noticed before the shooting begins and lives are lost.

  • Jim Lucas

    Mr. Pimple, with all due respect, we don’t agree that carrying firearms on school grounds should be illegal. I only reduced the penalty as a compromise. The need to defend ourselves does not end at some imaginary, or invisible boundary, as you stated and I believe our Right to defend ourselves should extend everywhere. Location and boundaries do not make a person evil, actions do. Boundaries ARE irrelevant to evil people and as has been proven all too often, evil people committed to doing evil things DON’T FOLLOW LAWS! Disarming innocent, peaceful people only creates easy, target-rich environments for evil people.
    You mentioned the deterrence factor of criminal law, and even how weak it is. I believe these types of “deterrent” laws are actually dangerous, as they give people a false sense of security (Gun FREE Zone, meaning one is safe in that area from people with guns???) I want to point out that laws don’t matter to law “breakers” and what happens when “deterrence” fails and defenseless people are waiting for the police to arrive AFTER the shooting has started? As soon as a shooting begins, who gets called, Mr. Pimple? It’s people with guns is who gets called.
    At Sandy Hook, 26 innocent, unarmed, defenseless people, 6 female adults and 20 children, lost their lives WAITING for good guys with guns to arrive as soon as possible. The facts are that the police did not even ENTER the building until almost 5 minutes AFTER Adam Lanza took his own life. At Columbine, it was almost 45 minutes before the police went in after the shooting ended. So please help me understand how WAITING for a good guy with a gun to arrive does an unarmed and defenseless person any good when in the company of a bad guy with a gun who is committed to killing as many innocent people as possible? These are the facts Mr. Pimple, plain and simple.
    The “several thousand dollars” in attorney fees I was referring to is app. how much a person would spend to hire an attorney to plea down an offense that even the Prosecuting Attorney’s representative testified is rarely, if ever, used. For people with an appointed attorney, the taxpayer foots the bill. This sounds like revenue enhancement to me, if it’s not being used.

  • Ken Pimple

    Rep. Lucas: Thank you again for your reply. It appears that you and I agree on very little at all, but I appreciate your willingness to air your position and engage with a taxpaying citizen.

    Two things give me hope for you: (A) You are willing to compromise (this is more than can be said about many legislators). (B) You have some respect for empirical evidence, as shown by quoting the representative for Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys in defense of your bill.

    You seem to have misunderstood several of my points. For example, you wrote: “The need to defend ourselves does not end at some imaginary, or invisible boundary, as you stated.” I said no such thing. I said that boundaries can make a difference under law.

    You also seem to have missed my assertion that if guns are not allowed on school grounds, the police can be called the minute the firearm is noticed, ideally BEFORE SHOOTING BEGINS.

    With due respect, I think that the problem is the “false sense of security” fostered by carrying – indeed, merely owning – a firearm. Do you know how many children have been killed by firearms in their homes by accident? Do you know how many suicides are committed with firearms? (An interesting fact: Making a suicide attempt slightly more difficult dramatically reduces probability of a suicide attempt – as slight a difference as packaging pills in bottles versus blister packs.) Do you know how many domestic disputes are settled fatally (or nearly so) simply because there are firearms in the house?

    Most importantly, do you know how those numbers compare to the number of crimes that have been foiled by armed civilians? I believe that the former is much higher than the latter, and if I’m right, the defense of firearms on the grounds of protecting the innocent FAILS. Unfortunately we don’t know much about gun violence because the Republicans in the U.S. Congress have blocked such research for many years at the behest of the NRA.

    Do you know how many hours of firearm training police officers receive? Do you know how often they are tested, and how much ongoing training they take? Do you know how this compares to the average firearm-carrying good guy? We don’t just call people with guns to help us in an emergency – we call POLICE OFFICERS with guns.

    I’ve asked you a number of questions starting “do you know.” I do not have the answers to those questions. If you know the answers, please share them with me. If not, please consider looking them up and acting accordingly.

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