A bill intending to make it harder for people to acquire guns died before reaching a hearing in committee, just months after minors shot at people at the Hub and the Tippecanoe County Mall.
Senate Bill 203, introduced by state Sen. Greg Taylor last month, contained a provision geared toward decreasing gun ownership among young people. It would have raised the minimum purchasing age from 18 to 21 for certain firearms, but failed to meet its deadline for a hearing in the current committee.
Jillian Carr, an economics professor who studies the economic aspects of crime, has dedicated a portion of her career to studying gun violence in relation to minors.
Research she published in 2015 found that a city like Washington, D.C. — which enforces curfew hours for minors — may experience a higher chance of gun violence at 11 p.m. — the start of curfew. Referencing the idea that a street with more traffic is a safe street, she says curfews generally mean fewer witnesses and therefore fewer people to intervene or call the police.
A minor perpetrated last semester’s shooting on the roof of the Hub after curfew. Still, Carr hesitates to say her findings have any definite implications about life in the Greater Lafayette area.
“There’s not a lot of places I’d say are like D.C.,” Carr said. “It’s not anything like New York City, and maybe it’s a bit like St. Louis, but it’s hard to come up with a good comparison, and I definitely wouldn’t put Lafayette or West Lafayette on that list.”
Taylor’s bill intended to make incidents like the Hub and Mall shootings less common.
In the lead-up to the 2018 primary season, West Lafayette Police Department Chief Jason Dombkowski challenged the Tippecanoe County Sheriff with his plan to address an alleged increase in violent crimes. Although violent crime has seen an increase in the area, Carr emphasized that that statistic should be examined relative to the growth in population. Tippecanoe County saw a .72% population increase in 2018 according to the U.S. Census. Relative to other data from the Census, Tippecanoe is growing rapidly.
“It’s worth remembering how much this community is growing, especially in the population of students,” Carr said, “so if the crime is growing at a slower rate than the population, it might actually be going down in a per-capita sense. That’s why somewhere like New York City is technically a really safe place. As the population grows, we should expect crime to grow.”
To Carr, fear about a rise in crime is an equal expectation.
“It’s easy for our towns to get nervous about a little bit of gun crime, but it’s still incredibly safe here relative to most places,” Carr said. “It’s hard to think that there’s some kind of systematic approach that the city could take to reduce this violence because it’s not systematic violence yet. They’re altercations between individuals that aren’t going to be impacted by some kind of big overarching policy.”
A press release provided by Taylor’s office explains how precisely the bill would have operated with other laws.
“Under current federal and state law, dealers are prohibited from selling handguns to anyone under 21, but this law does not apply to long guns, including assault weapons, which may be sold to those 18 and over,” the release states. “Under this bill, it is still legal for those under 21 to possess these weapons. They just cannot purchase legally from a dealer.”
Raising the age to 21 on regulated items could make those items less accessible to minors. In an article last month, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stated that tighter regulation reduced the likelihood that a high school student could pass tobacco products down to their underage peers, but this effect has not been replicated in a study examining gun possession.
Although SB 203 failed to get off the ground in the current committee, Taylor is considering putting forward the bill in the future or returning with new legislation altogether.
“That’s the thing with the Indiana statehouse,” said Ashton Cady, a member of Purdue’s Political Discourse Club. “(Bills) get rewritten over and over again, and they get watered down. Starting off with a bill that’s super ambitious is important, but I think the compromises need to be made or it’s not going to be passed.”
Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Andy Cree said gun violence remains a threat that he and his fellow officers are prepared to face.
“(The shootings) do bring attention to the fact that in our area of society, that age group is more and more getting involved with drugs, alcohol and violent crime,” Cree said.
Experience has taught Cree that legislative efforts like SB 203 are difficult to enforce. He says many young offenders tend to steal guns from homes or vehicles, or buy them illegally.
“Say we catch a 19-year-old with a firearm,” Cree said. “If they’re honest and say ‘I purchased this from a person,’ maybe we can prosecute, but a lot of these laws are hard to backtrack if we don’t get any cooperation.”