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EDITORIAL

They're breeding contempt for the law in Hammond

Friday, July 19, 2013 - 12:01 am

Residents may think they know the gun rules, but be wrong.

In 2011 the state enacted a law that pre-empted all local gun regulations. That voided all local gun ordinances in Indiana, including the one in Hammond that prohibited guns in parks and public buildings. Hammond decided to keep its ordinance on the books even though it was unenforceable. The city was sued by Samuel Dykstra, who lives in Highland but attends college in Hammond, and Michelle Bahus of Hammond.

In March the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled against them, saying the city was under no obligation to delete its superseded ordinances as long as it did not try to enforce them.

That was a stupid ruling, and now the Indiana Supreme Court has extended and underlined the stupidity. And since it didn’t actually hear the case, merely voted 5-0 not to take it up, we don’t even know the court’s reasoning.

We don’t have to wonder about the reasoning of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the person who directed that the ordinance remain on the books, because he has made his thinking quite clear. “I’m not putting my name on something that says you can take a gun in the Hammond Civic Center. That’s crazy,” he said. “Somebody’s going to get killed one day with a gun in the Hammond Civic Center, and I’m going to blame all these idiots that voted for this law.”

The clear intent is to control Hammond residents’ actions by confusing them about reality. Some will see that ordinance on the books and not know it contains empty words without the force of the law. They will behave accordingly, thinking something is against the law when it really isn’t. The city isn’t exactly playing fair here.

Now, we can argue about whether this was a trumped-up case by the National Rifle Association, which the mayor says is upset with him because he was “outspoken about the way Indiana is going with gun control laws.” And whether it was actually a good idea for the state to supersede local gun control ordinances is open to honest debate as well.

But the law is what it is, and Hammond residents serious about being good, law-abiding citizens need to know exactly what is and is not allowed and what the penalties for noncompliance are. That’s how a civil society operates.

The law must be clear and direct and draw bright lines between the permitted and the impermissible. To deliberately deviate from that standard by intentionally sowing confusion is to breed contempt for all laws and even the very idea of law. That is far more dangerous than a gun in a civic center.