Indiana lawmakers passed a law last year allowing licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in certain public places, including parks. It prevents local governments from enforcing their own firearm restrictions, but not all local counties agreed last year. In fact, Elkhart County leaders voted Monday on finally adopting the law.
Earlier this year, the Elkhart County Parks Department updated their policy about the carrying of handguns into county parks. Weapons of any kind were not allowed. That changed Monday.
“Previously you could not carry a gun, but now the new state laws says that if you are licensed you are permitted to carry a gun in public places like parks, or places like county public buildings,” said Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder.
The law means localities no longer can block licensed gun owners from carrying their weapons into most public buildings, though there are exceptions for courthouses, schools and hospitals.
In St. Joseph County, officials decided the courthouse exemption applies to the County-City Building in downtown South Bend as well as the county courthouses, the County Services Building in Mishawaka and the Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend.
The state law outlines if a weapon can or cannot be shown.
“In Indiana there is no differentiation between a concealed carry or an unconcealed carry, so you have a permit to carry whether it’s concealed or not,” said Yoder.
Larry Neff, who heads the Elkhart County Parks Department, says he has heard from people on both sides of the issue. Some agree with the constitutional right to bear arms. Others say they are a little nervous, knowing that there are a lot of kids in county parks at certain times of the year.
“I don't know if I have heard more for or against,” said Neff. “We have certainly heard both ways. Though a lot of people find it very disturbing to have guns in the park where families can go and have fun...”
Jamie Dermott, who goes to Oxbow Park on an almost daily basis, says she is comfortable with licensed gun owners in the parks.
“I believe that the people who would bring a handgun into the park to do something horrible with it wouldn't obey a law, even if it said there were no handguns allowed to be in a park,” she said.
The St. Joseph County Parks Department amended its rules to allow guns in parks last November.
The South Bend Tribune contributed to this report.