“The people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the State.” These seventeen clear words are found in Article 1, Section 32 of Indiana’s Constitution. This basic freedom is found in our State’s Bill of Rights along side the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, the free interchange of thought and opinion, and the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This past week, through a temporary rule modification, I did what I could to restore some of the personal freedom that had been taken away from the citizens of Indiana. While it opened up all DNR property to the legal possession of handguns under a validly issued handgun license and removed some restrictions on the legal possession of handguns during certain hunting or wildlife related activities, most of the media focus has been on state parks. I wanted to take this brief opportunity to discuss the rule changes as well as the safety and security of DNR properties.
These rule changes did not arise out of a security issue or because of any particular situation. Our parks are among the safest and most tranquil places in the state. Allowing citizens to exercise their constitutional rights by possessing a handgun will not change that. DNR law enforcement has no concerns with the rule changes and several states, including neighbors Ohio and Michigan, already allow for the possession of handguns by licensed individuals in their state parks. Every day each and every citizen of Indiana interacts with some of the 280,000 plus Hoosiers that have a handgun license. The right to carry a handgun that exists in Indiana has not caused problems in places like restaurants, grocery stores, churches, shopping malls, gas stations and movie theaters where law-abiding citizens take legal handguns every day. The State Parks will be no different.
These rules were identified as we continue to review all of the rules and regulations applicable to the DNR. Upon these coming to my attention, I was surprised that the restrictions existed. There is no legislative directive that would lead one to believe that the DNR should adopt rules preventing individuals with valid handgun licenses from exercising that right on DNR land. In fact, our Indiana legislature has consistently supported the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Just in the last year, the legislature passed the “castle” doctrine as state law and made available to Indiana citizens the first-ever lifetime handgun license. These rule changes simply place DNR property in line with the rest of the state.
I then went back to the first words of this letter. The United States of America and the State of Indiana were founded upon a set of basic rights. Those rights are spelled out in their respective constitutions. I believe that we should do everything that we can to preserve ALL of the Bill of Rights. The Governor does as well and took an oath to do so. These rule changes help to restore some basic rights that should not have been restricted in the first place. The Bill of Rights is not a list to pick and choose from. They are interrelated and dependent upon each other to be effective and enduring. While the final decision will rest with the Natural Resource Commission after their public input process, I am proud to have been able to take this relatively small action to defend the freedom we all share. I hope that you can appreciate the value of protecting all of the Bill of Rights.