This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
LINCOLN — A bill allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed handguns without training or a state permit moved forward Tuesday despite concerns that it would reduce the ability to ban dangerous weapons from public places and would endanger schoolchildren.
Legislative Bill 77, referred to by supporters as “constitutional carry,” advanced from second-round debate on a 31-10 vote during the first night session of the 2023 session.
Only one more round of debate, and a signature from Gov. Jim Pillen, a supporter, is now required to make Nebraska the 26th state that allows people to carry a concealed handgun without a state permit. In Nebraska, that currently requires purchase of a $100 state permit and passing a gun safety course, which can cost as much as $250.
One day after Nashville shooting
The advancement came one day after the United States saw another mass shooting at a school, this time in Nashville, Tennessee, where three students and three staffers were gunned down by a 28-year-old former student.
“When is enough, enough?” asked Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, who argued that loosening state gun laws and rescinding local gun ordinances was exactly the opposite approach of what parents are now seeking.
“To dismiss and dismantle local safeguards that keep our communities safer is what we’re doing. It is completely illogical,” Raybould said.
Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, who sponsored LB 77, said that to better protect schoolchildren, he plans to introduce a bill next year to provide resource officers in every school in the state. He added that he would also consider allowing trained teachers or school staff to carry guns.
“Right now they’re open targets,” Brewer said.
His voice rose as he said the bill wasn’t about matters such as preventing suicides, racism and school shootings, but about guaranteeing the right to bear arms in Nebraska.
He read from the State Constitution, which provides the right to bear arms for “security or defense” … “and for lawful common defense” without those rights being denied or infringed by government.
“Evil will do evil,” Brewer said. He cited a recent incident in Lincoln in which a female driver killed two men by ramming them with her vehicle.
Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln questioned whether LB 77 would eliminate that city’s ability to prohibit deadly weapons from city buses, parks and Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bill would only ban ‘concealed handguns’
Currently, a Lincoln city ordinance prohibits “firearms” from certain city facilities. Dungan said LB 77 would eliminate that ordinance, and it only allows prohibitions on “concealed handguns” — a narrower group of deadly weapons — from certain areas.
Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins, who was lobbying senators from the Rotunda, said LB 77 was “poorly written” and left too many gray areas, such as whether long guns, assault rifles and swords could continue to be banned from certain areas in the city.
Ewins, along with Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, joined with their prospective city councils and mayors to oppose LB 77. They argued that Nebraska’s largest cities have different issues with guns than rural areas and that the Legislature should not rescind their local ordinances.
“It’s just not fair to our community, and it really risks the lives of my officers,” Ewins said.
Brewer, a trained and decorated military sniper, has made passage of such legislation the top goal of his seven years in the Legislature.
He said LB 77 doesn’t do away with a private business’s choice to ban weapons on the premise. It also doesn’t do away with the state requirement in Nebraska to obtain a state handgun buyer’s permit, a process that requires a criminal background check.
But Raybould touted New Jersey as a state that has reduced gun violence via tougher gun laws. It has the third lowest rate of firearm deaths in the nation in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Nebraska is 10th lowest.
By contrast, Raybould said, states that allow permitless carry had the highest rates of gun deaths, as well as the highest rates of road rage shootings.
Surge in road rage shootings
The pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety recently reported that a surge in road rage shootings was linked to the increase in gun sales and the increased availability of firearms in vehicles.
But supporters of LB 77 said that criminals don’t care what gun laws there are and that the proposal was about removing barriers for law-abiding citizens to carry guns under a jacket without committing a crime.
“We’re not trying to arm everyone in the world. We’re just trying to take care of a problem,” said Kearney Sen. John Lowe.
Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh offered a last-minute amendment to provide state concealed carry permits without a fee, saying it address the concern that people had to “pay” to exercise a constitutional right.
But Brewer rejected the offer, saying that too many times in the past he’d allowed amendments, but, in the end, they served to scuttle his proposals.
For instance, he said, he once offered a concealed carry proposal that would have excepted Omaha and Lincoln — allowing them to keep their local gun-control ordinances — but that bill was deemed unconstitutional.
The vote to invoke cloture passed with the minimum number of votes, 33, though one supporter, Grand Island Sen. Ray Aguilar, was absent.
Four senators were present but did not vote on advancement of LB 77: Omaha Sens. Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney, and Lincoln Sens. Anna Wishart and Suzanne Geist. Geist is running for mayor of Lincoln.