Leppert: Indiana lawmakers doing their best Butch and Sundance

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For those among you who haven’t seen the 1969 classic film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” let me spoil the ending for you. Paul Newman and Robert Redford, in the title roles, had been chased into a shack by authorities in Bolivia after a lengthy manhunt. They were surrounded, exhausted and had nowhere else to run. Little did they know, the Bolivian Army had also gathered outside the shack where they were holed up.

The outlaws decided to come out shooting. They were sitting ducks. The end.

They had no idea how many guns awaited them in Bolivia back in 1908. In 2023 America, none of us do either.

House Bill 1177 is a bill filed in the Indiana General Assembly by the state’s leading cheerleader for guns, Rep. Jim Lucas. The bill is titled, “Handgun training for teachers,” and that efficiently describes it. It is designed to create funding and training curriculum for teachers and certain school staff who voluntarily want to carry a handgun in the school where they work.

School districts in the state already can allow teachers and staff to carry without training. Chris Lagoni, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association, stated in testimony that “only a couple” of districts have implemented the policy. No safety training is currently required. Possessing the gun, and any relevant training that logically would accompany it, is voluntary. Under the legislation, all of the training offered will also be voluntary. The bill primarily establishes the authority to fund the curriculum.

Classic creep

This is a classic example of what legislative experts would declare as the beginning of “legislative creep.” This term describes policy making that seems simple, unobjectionable and not alarming to the public in step one. A great example in our recent past was the passage of the Indiana Lottery, which led to riverboat gaming, which led to electronic gaming at horse tracks, which led to Indiana rising to near the top of the gaming industry in America behind only Nevada and New Jersey. It is often predictable.

Under this year’s gun bill, everything is still voluntary. That is how it remains unoffensive. For now. But the next steps by those who align with Lucas on the matter are clear. House Bill 1177 is a way to justify policies that result in more guns in schools, “more guns” being the important part there.

I have discussed, debated and argued gun policy with Lucas many times over the years, and our foundational differences can be described most easily in this way: he believes that the answer to gun violence is more guns, and I believe the answer is fewer.

During his presentation of the bill last week, Lucas said, “At the end of the day, I want my teachers and staff to be able to have a chance, because I just read you scenarios of what happens when teachers aren’t armed. They’re sitting ducks.”

Lucas spent significant time presenting the measure with a discussion that police are not obligated to protect the public. He cited two Supreme Court Cases, Castle Rock v. Gonzalez and DeShaney v. Winnebago, which, according to him, make clear that law enforcement officials do not have a “duty to protect” the public.

While the holdings in those rulings could be debated, it is important to note that an armed teacher won’t have any duty to protect anyone either.

Exhaustion

However, Lucas claimed in the hearing that a school that has armed teachers and staff would create a “deterrent” for shooters. For those of us who have studied deterrence theory, we know this is laughably incorrect, but no one should be laughing about where this erroneous thought process is taking us.

The House Chamber, where the bill was heard last week, was mostly empty at the time. It passed 9-4 on a party line vote. The discussion, debate and vote took forty minutes. No one testified in opposition to the bill, though the Indiana State Teachers Association testified in neutrality, primarily because of the voluntary nature of the bill. (House members passed the bill Tuesday by 71-24 and sent it to the Senate with only Democrats voting against.)

This too is evidence of “creep.” Exhaustion has set in on the issue of gun policy in Indiana.

Training teachers to be more safely armed so that people feel safer in schools sounds rational. My suggestion is that if this makes Hoosiers feel safer, maybe we should make training a condition to own a gun in the first place. Just a thought.

Butch and Sundance died when they mistook the odds they faced as long, when those odds were actually insurmountable. There is no data that training and arming teachers will change our odds in schools today. That alone, is reason enough to block this creep.

Michael Leppert, is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com, columnist, Indiana CAPITAL CHRONICLE.