INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Republican lawmakers pushed through a bill that would repeal Indiana's requirement for a permit to carry a handgun in public on Tuesday, further loosening the state's firearms laws despite public opposition from the state police superintendent and some major law enforcement organizations.
The House and Senate approved the repeal as Republican lawmakers revived it last week after conflict among GOP senators had temporarily sidelined the issue.
Senators approved the bill 30--20 after House members earlier voted 68-30 largely along party lines in what was among the final issues taken up as the Republican-dominated Legislature neared adjournment of this year's session.
Once the measure arrives at Gov. Eric Holcomb's desk, he will have seven days to sign or veto it -- or it would then become law without his signature.
The Republican governor hasn't said whether he supports the concept of not requiring handgun permits, saying last week he would give the bill "careful thought."
The bill's provisions would allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun in public except for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order from a court or having a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police background checks that can take weeks.
Bill sponsor Rep. Ben Smaltz, a Republican from Auburn, said it was meant for the "lawful Hoosier" who hasn't done anything wrong and don't want to be fingerprinted to obtain a handgun permit.
Sen. Eric Koch, a Republican from Bedford who presented the bill in the Senate, said he considered the law enforcement community to be "divided on this issue." He also maintained that obtaining a handgun permit will still be optional, and said he thinks that "most Hoosiers" will still follow that process.
"Criminals already carry firearms without regard for the law," Koch said. "Lawful carry simply puts the law-abiding on equal footing."
The repeal proposal easily passed the House in January but faced more skepticism in the Senate, where it stalled last month.
State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, joined by the state's Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs association and county prosecutors association, strongly objected the proposal. They maintained the permit repeal would strip officers of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people they encounter who shouldn't have guns.
Carter, an appointee of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, sharply criticized GOP lawmakers during a state Senate hearing on the bill, blaming "political posturing" for their pushing of the repeal, saying that if lawmakers "support this bill, you will not be supporting us."
Carter, wearing his state police uniform, stood in the back of the Senate chamber as the bill was being debated. He told The Associated Press Tuesday that approval of the measure "does not support law enforcement -- period." He added that lawmakers' comments on the Senate floor in support of the proposal were "disingenuous."
"I don't think (lawmakers) understand the magnitude of this," Carter said. "I tried to explain it ... this adds a layer of danger to every police officer."
Nine Republicans joined all 11 Democratic senators in voting against the bill. Those GOP senators were Eric Bassler of Washington; Vanetta Becker of Evansville; Liz Brown of Fort Wayne; Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso; Michael Crider of Greenfield; Sue Glick of LaGrange; Chip Perfect of Lawrenceburg; Greg Walker of Columbus; and Kyle Walker of Indianapolis.
In response to complaints that obtaining a handgun permit in Indiana takes too long, Brown suggested Tuesday that lawmakers instead try to "fix that process."
Glick added that "police officers have our respect, but they should have our protection," before she voted against the bill.
Indiana currently requires people to obtain a license to carry a loaded handgun outside their own homes, businesses and cars, although people can generally carry rifles and shotguns without a permit. Twenty-one other states allow residents to carry handguns without permits, which gun rights advocates call "constitutional carry," in reference to the Second Amendment.
Democratic House Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne argued that legislators should keep the handgun permit requirement in place as a sign of supporting law enforcement "to make their job safer, to make us safer."
Democrats in the Senate further criticized the repeal, calling it "dangerous" and "a bad judgment call."
"It hurts to see us advancing a piece of legislation that supports spreading and allowing more guns to be on our streets when violent crime is going up in our nation," said Democratic Sen. Fady Qaddoura of Indianapolis. "This will make it much easier for people to get access to guns that kill other people."
The National Rifle Association's Indiana director John Weber said in a statement Tuesday that the organization was "pleased" by the bill's passage and called for the governor to make it law.
"Hoosiers value their Second Amendment rights, yet under the current regime they are forced to ask the government for extra permission in order to exercise the fundamental right of carrying a firearm for self-defense," Weber said. "This bill simply codifies the fundamental right of all people to defend themselves wherever a self-defense situation may arise.""