By Maureen Hayden
— INDIANAPOLIS – State Sen. Jim Tomes is a patient man. I know because I’ve witnessed his efforts to explain the reasoning behind a gun law he authored that has had some people up in arms.
Tomes has agreed to countless interviews with reporters who wanted to talk to him about Indiana’s firearms pre-emption law, which went into effect July 2011. He’s disappointed with the results. “Not once has it ever been reported accurately,” he told me last week, after patiently correcting me for a mistake I’d made in a story about how the law will impact polling places this November.
The Tomes-authored bill prohibits local governments from enacting stricter gun laws than the firearms statutes set by the state. It also did away with local gun laws that were already in place.
Tomes said his law was intended to align firearms regulations throughout Indiana. “This is a huge step to protect lawful citizens who have a right to carry firearms,” Tomes said after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law. “Fathers and mothers who attain a license to protect themselves and their children should not have to fear being in jeopardy of violating a huge patchwork of firearms rules that are outside of state code and statutes.”
It didn’t go down that easy. Some local officials were infuriated that the law nullified ordinances that banned firearms in public places. “Some people imagined that we were going to have people shooting up libraries and parks,” Tomes told me last week. “And that just hasn’t happened.”
Tomes has taken some tough hits in the press. I’ve written about the law (at least one time with error) but failed to tell readers about Tomes: That he’s a Vietnam War veteran (having served with the much-storied 101st Airborne Division), that he’s a former Teamster union steward, that he’s active in his local church, and that he and his wife of 42 years have three grown children – including one who’s in law enforcement and another in the National Guard.
Tomes’ beliefs about guns are rooted in the Bill of Rights. He wonders why journalists seem quick to protect their First Amendment right to a free press, but seem so dismissive of his Second Amendment right to bear arms. If he had to do a count, he thinks he’d find a lot more scary gun stories, he said, than stories “about people who’ve used guns responsibly to protect themselves or their loved ones.”
So Tomes patiently counsels gun owners to be mindful of that. His law protects the rights of legal, licensed gun owners in Indiana to openly display their firearms in public places – including some polling places this November. But it’s not what he advises – not by a long shot.
Two reasons why: First, he worries it would make them a target. “If somebody comes in with a gun intending to harm people, who do you think he’s going to shoot first?” Tomes said. Second, because many people just aren’t accustomed to the sight of a gun. “It’s common courtesy to keep them concealed,” he said, “as to not excite unnecessary fear.”
That’s a courtesy, he said, his law won’t undo. “Most legal firearms carriers are responsible enough to extend this courtesy to fellow Hoosiers, carrying their firearms concealed as a demonstration of respect.”
• Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.