This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
Editor’s Note: story has been updated to reflect that Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hanson testified “neutral” on this bill, while expressing concerns.
LINCOLN — A last-minute amendment to a controversial gun rights bill has resulted in the Omaha Police Officers Association dropping its opposition to the proposal.
But Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer as well as Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said Friday they remain opposed to the so-called “constitutional carry” bill because it would nullify the City of Omaha’s gun ordinances, including one that requires registration of concealable handguns.
“The ordinance helps us address gun violence crimes as well as screening those who should not possess a firearm,” Schmaderer said, mentioning those who are mentally ill or have criminal backgrounds.
Stothert said the proposal would remove local control.
“Omaha is a diverse and large metropolitan city that needs local ordinances to address gun crimes,” she said.
The new amendment is designed to move Legislative Bill 77 closer to the 33 senators necessary to fend off a filibuster planned against the measure.
The bill, a main priority of State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, now has 25 co-sponsors.
Last year, a similar bill fell two votes short of advancing, but Brewer has expressed optimism that it will get over the finish line in 2023 due to a conservative shift in the Legislature following November’s elections.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Brewer said on Friday. “We’re threading the needle to keep strong NRA (National Rifle Association) members happy and the cops happy.”
LB 77 would do away with the requirement of undergoing a criminal background check and passing a firearm safety course to obtain a state concealed handgun permit. Such permitless “constitutional carry” laws have been passed in 25 states, including every state bordering Nebraska except Colorado.
A year ago, the Omaha police union fought to retain the city’s gun control ordinances when a constitutional carry measure was debated.
But Sgt. Tony Connor, president of the OPOA, said that when union members were asked what “must haves” they wanted in this year’s bill, other priorities rose to the top.
As a result, the new amendment to LB 77 includes OPOA-suggested changes that would increase penalties for “prohibited persons” carrying concealed guns and failing to “immediately inform” a police officer that you are carrying a concealed weapon. It also would make some misdemeanor offenses, such as domestic violence and resisting arrest, qualify for enhanced penalties if a concealed gun was involved.
The new amendment would leave unchanged the aspect of LB 77 that removes the power of cities, counties and villages to regulate guns, including requiring gun registration, as is done in Omaha.
Connor said the OPOA was seeking a “middle ground” with the senator and is now OK with dropping the city gun ordinances.
“As much as it helps those officers, we knew this was something we could walk away with to find a compromise with Senator Brewer,” he said, adding that the OPOA is now “neutral” on the bill.
Lincoln, Douglas County had opposed bill
It was unclear Friday whether LB 77 is still opposed by the City of Lincoln, which also has local gun laws, and by Douglas County.
Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins had testified against the bill during a public hearing last month. Newly elected Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hanson, a former Omaha police officer and head of the OPOA, testified “neutral” but expressed concerns about the measure.
The constitutional carry bill — so named because backers maintain that the Constitution guarantees a right to carry a concealed gun without obtaining a permit — is scheduled to be debated on Wednesday.
Last year, Brewer blamed the defeat of his bill on his attempts to find common ground with the Cities of Omaha and Lincoln and their police unions. He vowed this year to present a “clean” proposal, without amendments.
But just in the past few days, talks began to amend LB 77 to address concerns of the Omaha police union and State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, who is running for mayor of Lincoln.
Geist, on Friday, said she had not yet had a chance to talk to Brewer about the new amendment. She said she still was seeking a small change in the bill, adding “we’re very close.”
Brewer said he expects that the Lincoln senator will help him overcome a filibuster, if not vote “yes” on the bill.
“She’s running for mayor and I think she’ll want to keep the police union happy,” he said.