Our viewpoint: Prosecutors must show zero tolerance for guns at school

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Aim Media Indiana

A couple of recent cases involving guns on school property in our area must be addressed. We’re afraid local prosecutors responded to these cases with less than what public safety demands: zero tolerance for guns on school property.

That is, after all, the law they are sworn to uphold.

In both cases, police made swift arrests, but prosecutors inexplicably delayed filing charges. Do they understand the message this sends to the public?

Possession of a firearm on school property is a Level 6 felony in Indiana for good reason. Those reasons include Columbine. And Sandy Hook. And Parkland. And Uvalde. And on and on. School shootings are a tragic epidemic across this nation. We pray one never happens here, but prosecutors cannot be complacent in enforcing one of the only common-sense laws we have to protect children at school.

Both of these cases happened on Feb. 2. In the first, authorities said a 47-year-old man walked into North Vernon Elementary School, went to the office and asked what the school’s policy was about bringing guns onto school property. The man then showed staff he had brought a gun into the school.

The man was promptly arrested. North Vernon police informed the public about the arrest that same day, and the suspect spent a couple of days in jail before posting bond.

But Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding didn’t file a charge in that case for more than a week, and he debated whether to file one at all. When contacted by The Republic a week after the suspect’s arrest, Belding said he hadn’t made a charging decision, adding, “We have to determine why he had a firearm, and I don’t know what his intent was.”

That kind of equivocating is unacceptable. The law is clear and makes no exceptions for intent or anything else when someone takes a gun onto school property. Eventually, Belding did file a charge, but why was there ever any doubt about doing so?

In the other case, an 18-year-old Columbus East High School student was accused of threatening another young man by pointing a gun at him in the school parking lot. The suspect was arrested a short time later in a different location, was jailed briefly then bonded out.

The Republic asked Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay’s office multiple times as weeks went by if charges would be filed. Holden-Kay hasn’t explained the delay, but said “Measures were taken to ensure community safety, namely our office filed a 72-hour hold on this case.”

But that doesn’t explain why it took the office almost three weeks to file a charge of Level 5 felony intimidation with a deadly weapon in the Columbus East case. And inexplicably, the suspect in that case was not also charged with possession of a firearm on school property.

In both of these cases, prosecutors could have and should have filed charges before the defendants were released from jail. Doing so would have demonstrated to the community that having a gun on school property is a serious offense that will be promptly prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Sadly, given what we have seen in these cases, we cannot say our local prosecutors view it this way.