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After a year of permitless carry in Indiana, handgun licenses and related misdemeanors drop

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After a year of permitless carry in Indiana, handgun licenses and related misdemeanors drop

Aug 21, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Casey Smith
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After a year of permitless carry in Indiana, handgun licenses and related misdemeanors drop
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Indiana's permitless carry option for most Hoosiers over the age of 18 took effect July 1, 2022. Since then, applications and licenses issued have dropped significantly. (Getty Images)

One year after Indiana removed the permit requirement to legally carry a handgun, applications for firearm licenses have dwindled — and so has the number of misdemeanors filed for unlawful carry.

But as gun crime rates around the state continue to increase, law enforcement officials are hesitant to blame the new constitutional carry law.

So far, in 2023, the Indiana State Police have received 11,143 applications and issued 10,587 handgun licenses. In 2022 — the year the new law took effect — 47,254 licenses were issued.

That’s a significant drop compared to the year prior, when state police approved nearly 136,000 firearms licenses.

After a year of permitless carry in Indiana, handgun licenses and related misdemeanors drop
Plainfield Police Department Chief Kyle Prewitt (Photo courtesy the Plainfield Police Department)

Indiana retained its licensing law to allow people who wish to carry in other states — that still require licenses — to obtain one. But no one is required to have a license in the state.

Despite pushback from dozens of Hoosier law enforcement officers and police chiefs — along with stern criticism from the state police superintendent — Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the constitutional carry bill into law, which took effect July 1 of last year.

“We’re still watching it very carefully. We have limited ability to inquire about possession of a handgun,” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter. “We’re making the best of it. It is what it is right now. It is state law so we’ll do the very best we can.”

Plainfield Police Department Chief Kyle Prewitt, who also represents the more than 300 members of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, said police don’t get to write the laws but have to apply them. 

“We’re kind of in that mode of trying to figure these things out,” he said. “Where once, when you saw somebody walking down the street with a firearm on their hip, we probably weren’t going to stop them and ask them for ID and a permit. But if we had reason to, the permit made it pretty easy to know that, yeah, everything’s fine,” he continued. “But this has changed some of our methodology a little bit.”

State of the law

Every state allows people to carry concealed weapons in public, but half of them still require a permit. Currently, approximately 31 states honor Indiana’s handgun licenses.

That was the case in Indiana until 2022, when state lawmakers passed HEA 1296, removing the requirement to have a permit to carry a handgun in Indiana.

Under the law, those eligible to purchase a gun no longer need to apply for a license to carry a handgun in Indiana, and current handgun owners with an Indiana license to carry no longer have to take their license with them when carrying the weapon. 

Even so, it remains illegal for some individuals to legally carry — including those who have been convicted of certain violent crimes, and those who do not meet certain age and psychological requirements.

There are still requirements gun owners must follow, too. For example, firearms are not allowed to be carried on school property, school buses, federal buildings, aircrafts or airports.

Additionally, anyone in Indiana buying a handgun from a Federal Firearms License dealer must still undergo a background check. However, if buying a gun through a private sale, there is no background check required.

Our shootings are way up — we're doing about three shootings a week now. Part of the reason is because everybody thinks they can carry a gun, and they can’t.

– Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings

Prior to the passage of the law, the fee for a handgun license ranged from $40 to $50, depending on the term of the license. The new law prohibits applicants from being charged for the approval of a gun license, however. 

The permitless carry statute additionally addresses minors and allows them to possess and shoot guns when supervised at a property owned by their parent or guardian. Any parent who violates this law can be charged with a crime, however.

Fewer misdemeanors — but no shortage of felonies

Like license applications, handgun-related misdemeanors filed in the state have dropped as well, according to the  Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC).

Anyone who remains ineligible to carry a firearm — including felons and those under the age of 18 — and is found in possession of a handgun faces a minimum charge of unlawful carrying of a handgun — a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 365 days in prison. 

The crime is elevated to a felony if a person has past felony or domestic violence convictions, or carries the handgun on or near school property. That crime can be punished by up to six years imprisonment. 

Data from 91 counties obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle shows that from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, local prosecutors filed 3,940 Class A misdemeanors for carrying a handgun without a license. Another 2,064 Level 5 felonies were filed under the same statute.

After the permitless carry law took effect — making it no longer illegal to carry a handgun without a license — the related criminal citation changed to “unlawful carrying of a handgun.” Since July 1 of last year, only 939 Class A misdemeanors have been filed for that charge. But 2,040 felony charges were filed — nearly as many as before.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he filed 65 Class A misdemeanors from 2021 to 2022 and 51 such offenses the following year, after the new law went into place. Data on felony charges wasn’t immediately available.

He said permitless carry hasn’t had much effect on gun crimes in the county, though, noting that there continues to be “lots of gun charges” overall — many of which involve individuals who likely would not have held licenses in the first place.

“Our shootings are way up — we’re doing about three shootings a week now. Part of the reason is because everybody thinks they can carry a gun, and they can’t,” Cummings said. “Some people are still prohibited, but I don’t think they understand that. What happens is, when most everybody’s carrying a gun, even people who may not carry a gun feel like they’re obligated to carry a gun to defend themselves. So, a lot more people are carrying firearms or handguns than ever before. And that means if you’re angry, under the influence, if there’s a dispute — then someone’s more likely to be shot.”

Cummings added that without a statewide permitting process, “it’s incredibly difficult for police to know who’s allowed to carry a firearm,” which puts officers “at even greater risk.”

The Indiana Supreme Court previously ruled that police cannot ask whether someone is legally carrying a weapon, or take the weapon, unless there is “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that a person is involved in a crime. The permitless carry law did not change that ruling. Cummings said the investigatory limitations officers face makes it easier for certain Hoosiers who are not prohibited to carry a gun to do so.

“If you don’t want prohibited people to have firearms, then there has to be a mechanism from which the police can determine who they are,” Cummings continued. “If you can’t do that, and you’re not allowed to investigate, it makes it pretty difficult to arrest somebody or file charges.”

An individual who is not allowed to have a handgun in Indiana — and can be criminally prosecuted for carrying one — if they are:

  • A person convicted of a felony at the state or federal level.
  • A person with a pending felony case. 
  • A person who has fled a state to evade criminal charges or testifying at a criminal trial.
  • Any person who is not lawfully present in the U.S.
  • A person who has been convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery or criminal stalking. 
  • A person restrained by a protective order.
  • A person who has been found dangerous during a “red flag” gun removal proceeding, adjudicated as a “mental defective” under Indiana law or committed to a mental institution. 
  • A person who has been dishonorably discharged from military service or the National Guard. 
  • A person who renounces their U.S. citizenship.
  • A person who is under the age of 18. 

Prewitt, with the state police chiefs association, noted too that in the past year, Indiana has had  “a pretty significant surge” in the number of violent crimes, especially those involving firearms being possessed by juveniles.

Even under the permitless carry law, those younger than 18 aren’t authorized to carry those weapons.

Help for officers appears to be on the way, though. Prewitt pointed to Senate Enrolled Act 136, signed into law earlier this year, which will give officers quicker access to information that can make it easier for them determine if a person is allowed to have a gun or not.

A response to permitless carry, the new law will allow a new statewide database to be created for officers to access information about a person’s background, including records of prior felony convictions or drug and alcohol abuse. The system is expected to be built by 2024.

“Well, we’re in the same place you were last year but we’re making progress and getting access to information roadside,” Carter said. “You remember my biggest issue was we would place officers in additional in additional danger because they don’t have information roadsides. So, we have a long ways to go there but we’re working towards it.”

Currently, officers must conduct multiple searches in numerous databases to figure out that information. It takes even longer for officers to parse records from different counties.

“That database will be very helpful,” Prewitt said. “If a crime has been committed, and this person also was in the possession of a firearm, now we’re going to go through, and we’re checking what we have here to find out this person is also a prohibited possessor. If so, then that violates the law. It’s going to give us more definitive knowledge once that database is rolled out.”

Numbers of gun crimes

Since July 2022, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) has been tracking accidental shootings, specifically. IMPD found non-fatal, accidental shootings more than doubled in February 2023 compared to February averages in the last 5 years. There were as many as 75 such incidents for the last half of 2022, and more than 75% of those were self-inflicted.

Nationwide data shows similar increases in violence for states that have relaxed handgun carrying laws. 

For example, a 2022 John Hopkins study indicated that the average rate of firearm assaults increased by an average of more than 9% compared to forecasted trends in the first 10 years after loosened firearm restrictions took effect in more than 34 other states.

Other studies of states that have had permitless carry on the books further show that 10 years after the adoption of those laws, there is an increase in violent crime of up to 15%.

Although some cities across Indiana have not reported significant increases in average shooting totals since permitless carry went into effect, experts say they are expecting to see more violence. 

Pierre Atlas, a senior lecturer at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Indianapolis, told IPB News that permitless carry “enables irresponsible gun ownership and reckless carrying of firearms and reckless usage.

He emphasized that Indiana’s former licensing process was simple, given that Hoosiers only had to meet “minimum criteria” before obtaining a gun license.

“Many other states that had licenses, that have since gone to permitless carry — many of those other states required training, safety training and even a live fire demonstration that you knew how to shoot a firearm,” he said. “Indiana never had that.”