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By Lesley Weidenbener
Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s easy to understand the outrage.
But an issue as important as gun control deserves a rational debate, one that calls for all sides to be reasonable and realistic. And so should be the case as lawmakers decide whether it should be legal to leave a gun in a parked car on school grounds.
So often, it’s advocates of gun control calling on gun rights supporters to be reasonable. It’s not hard to criticize the National Rifle Association or some especially ardent gun lovers for failing to support what many Americans would likely say are reasonable policies about waiting periods for gun purchases or the size of magazines.
But rationality is required from all sides.
Some educators and gun rights advocates are incensed that the General Assembly is debating Senate Bill 229, which – in its current form – allows individuals to have guns in their cars when parked at a school. The frustration is easy to understand. But there’s a reasonable case to be made that this is an area for compromise – or a decision that should be made in local communities.
As passed by the House, SB 229 would require those who can legally possess a firearm to keep it in a trunk, a glove compartment or stored otherwise out of plain sight in a locked vehicle. Currently, that’s illegal and a violation of the law is a Class D felony.
A group of educators and child advocates have written to lawmakers complaining the bill “completely decriminalizes possession of a firearm, by anyone other than an enrolled student, in the parking lots of schools, day cares, preschools, residential child care facilities, and Head Start programs.”
“These are not the areas where we want our children to grab a shiny gun as a toy, take a gun to settle a dispute, or be in the line of fire,” the letter says.
Supporters of the legislation, though, say the current law too easily makes criminals out of people who lawfully keep weapons in their cars for protection or other activities and then need to stop at a school to talk with a child’s teacher or drop off some forgotten lunch or homework.
I can sympathize with the latter point. I’m not a parent. I don’t park at schools regularly to talk to teachers. I don’t carry a gun. I certainly have no need to have a weapon with me in my car. But I am originally from a part of the state in which none of these things are unusual.
In the smaller Southern Indiana community where I grew up, hunting is part of the culture. My dad taught me to shoot rifles and shotguns when I was young. In high school, I went rabbit hunting with a 410 single barrel shotgun my dad borrowed from a friend. My dad and I fished for years at the Vincennes Gun Club and my first job was scoring trap shooting at that same club.
There was nothing unusual, dangerous or violent about someone driving around town with a shotgun in his vehicle. I have no doubt that throughout my K-12 career, hundreds if not thousands of parents parked outside my school with guns in their cars and trucks. And just a few miles away, the parking lots of our county schools were lined with pickup trucks with gun racks.
Today, that’s probably somewhat less common. But hunting and shooting remain a common part of everyday life in rural Indiana.
I, however, have moved. I now live in an inner city Indianapolis neighborhood. No one I know carries a firearm in his car. In general, my neighbors don’t hunt. They don’t shoot for sport. In the place I live now, guns are far more associated with violent crimes than they are sport. Here, guns are not a part of my life or the lives of the people around me – except for the tragic stories we watch on the evening news.
It’s easy here to imagine that restrictions on guns in cars at schools are not just reasonable but responsible.
But in the more rural areas of our state, requiring people to remove firearms from their vehicles before they park at a school may not only be unreasonable but just unnecessary.
That doesn’t mean educators and gun control advocates haven’t raised some legitimate issues with the legislation. It seems sensible to clarify that guns are banned on school buses (whether they are owned by the district or by the driver) and there are arguments to be had about whether teachers should be allowed to park regularly at a school with a weapon in a locked in the car – something students would likely learn about quickly.
But the larger question may be whether these decisions might best be made locally – by school board members who answer to the people in their communities. Perhaps state law shouldn’t ban guns from school parking lots and neither should it insist they be allowed.
Local control might be the most reasonable option of all.
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.