LINCOLN — The debate over gun rights returned to the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, with proponents and opponents of a so-called “constitutional carry” bill differing on how far those rights should extend.
Advocates for allowing people to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a state permit and passing a gun safety course said the Nebraska Constitution is even more explicit than the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment in ensuring rights to use guns for “security or defense.”
“A person in Nebraska should not have to pay money to the government to exercise a constitutional right,” said Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who has pushed “constitutional carry” measures throughout his seven years in the Legislature.
He said that the $100-$200 cost of a gun safety course, along with the $100 state permit fee, blocked some people from exercising their gun rights.
Opponents of his latest measure, Legislative Bill 77, said that carrying a deadly weapon is a huge responsibility, that the cost was a “straw man” argument, and that not requiring proper training threatens public safety.
“How does this legislation makes us safer?” asked Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, who read the names of the eight victims of the Von Maur mass shooting in Omaha in 2007.
She and other opponents also pointed to recent research, including a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found that such laws increase firearm homicides by 13% and firearm violent crimes by 29%.
“Just Google it,” urged Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln. “You will find hard evidence that laws like this do increase gun violence.”
Debate about LB 77, and a major amendment intended to mollify objections by the Omaha and Lincoln police unions, is expected to continue into Friday. That’s likely when it will be determined whether proponents have 33 votes to defeat a filibuster, which has doomed similar proposals in the past.
Cities of Omaha, Lincoln oppose, while unions neutral
The cities of Omaha and Lincoln, as well as their police chiefs, remain opposed to LB 77 whether it’s amended or not.
But representatives of the Omaha police union, the Omaha Police Officers Association, have said they would become “neutral” on the bill if an amendment is adopted. The police union in Lincoln has taken a similar stance.
Under the amendment, penalties would be increased if a “prohibited person,” such as a convicted felon, was caught carrying a concealed weapon during the commission of a crime. Also, it would be a felony after a third offense if someone failed to “immediately inform” a police officer about carrying a concealed weapon.
In addition, eight serious misdemeanor crimes, such as domestic violence and resisting arrest, would qualify for a second, consecutive prison sentence if a concealed gun was involved.
The new amendment would leave unchanged one controversial aspect of LB 77, which nullifies the power of cities, counties and villages to regulate guns, including requiring gun registration, as is done in Omaha.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Police Chief Todd Schmaderer — who were lobbying senators this week via phone against the bill — have said that clause leaves the state’s largest city without tools that combat gun violence.
Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha argued Wednesday that the new amendment makes such substantial changes to the bill and criminal sentences that it should undergo another public hearing — a requirement if a substantial change to a bill is proposed after its initial hearing.
Cavanaugh also questioned whether “attempted shoplifting” was a serious enough misdemeanor to qualify for the enhanced penalties.
Brewer rejected that, saying the amendment was “narrowly” changed to satisfy concerns raised by the Omaha police union.
“Here’s the moral to the story: Don’t do bad things with guns and bad things won’t happen to you,” said the senator, a decorated military veteran who competes in shooting competitions.
Proponents said adopting LB 77 won’t do away with the state’s existing handgun buyer’s permit, which requires someone to obtain a $5 permit from a local sheriff and submit to a criminal background check. It also won’t change areas where carrying guns, either openly or concealed, is banned, such as at courthouses, banks and businesses that post signs restricting it.
Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht said, however, passage would “stop local ordinances from infringing on the right to bear and carry arms.”
‘Good guys with guns’
Senators also debated whether “good guys with guns,” who would be able to carry concealed weapons with fewer requirements, have been able to stop “bad guys with guns.”
Raybould said that was a myth. She said it’s much more common for unarmed people to stop mass shootings than those with firearms. She read a letter from Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins that also questioned the “good guys with guns” idea and stated that allowing more concealed weapons at mass gatherings in the Capital City was a bad idea and that using a firearm requires regular training.
Brewer currently has 25 co-sponsors for LB 77, and it is expected to gain more support if the Omaha police union amendment is adopted.
But while Brewer expressed confidence Wednesday that he has the 33 votes needed to advance the bill, other observers said they weren’t so sure.
Twenty-five states, including every state bordering Nebraska except Colorado, currently allow “permit-less” concealed carry.
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