Concealed carry handgun bill comes up two votes short and fails to advance

Handful of Nebraska state senators switched from supporting the legislation

By: - April 11, 2022 5:05 pm

State Sens. Adam Morfeld, left, and Tom Brewer squared off in debate Monday over a bill to allow concealed carry of handguns without a state permit. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — In a surprise, state lawmakers failed to muster enough votes Monday to advance a concealed carry handgun bill, called “constitutional carry” by some.

The vote to invoke cloture was 31-9, two short of what’s needed to stop a filibuster and advance a bill. It was also four fewer senators than the number who supported advancement of the bill from first-round debate.

“To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement,” said State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who has made passing the bill a priority during his six years in office.

25 other states

At least 25 other states have passed such laws. In Nebraska, it would have allowed people to carry a concealed weapon without obtaining a $100 state permit, undergoing a criminal background check and passing a gun safety class.

Brewer had worked for several weeks to negotiate a compromise to Legislative Bill 773 with the Omaha police union and police department, which had expressed concern about the bill watering down existing gun control ordinances in the state’s largest city and complicating their job of reducing gun violence.

The compromise amendment would have left in place an Omaha ordinance that requires registration of handguns. It also would have allowed for the continued prosecution of the crime of “carrying a concealed handgun” if a concealed gun was used in a long list of “covered offenses,” from robbery and kidnapping, to cockfighting and disorderly conduct.

NRA urged ‘no’ vote

But the powerful National Rifle Association urged a “no” vote against the amendment, calling it “a discriminatory attempt to place Omaha’s extreme firearm registration requirement into state law.”

Senators failed to pass the compromise amendment on a 13-29 vote — 12 fewer “yes” votes than needed. 

The defeat pushed the Omaha Police Officers Association from neutral on the bill to oppose and sparked a debate over whether voting for LB 773 was a vote against law enforcement.

Tony Conner, president of the OPOA, said the amendment was fair.

 “There has to be some common sense regulation,” Conner said.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld led the opposition to the bill, saying that the 2nd Amendment is not an unlimited right and that requiring a state permit and passing a safety course were not unreasonable. He pointed out that the Lincoln police had always been opposed to LB 773.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha
State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

He joined Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt in arguing that most Nebraskans support reasonable gun laws. 

Hunt said she supports a society that doesn’t need to carry a gun “all the time to defend ourselves.” In states that allow permitless carry, suicide rates and rates of domestic violence have risen, she said.

“We’re talking about a bill that makes it easier for violent people to attack the people they’re targeting,” Hunt said.

Brewer pushed back, saying LB 773 wouldn’t require everyone to carry a concealed handgun but would allow people to exercise their constitutional rights without getting a costly permit and taking a time-consuming test.

Discounts law enforcement opposition

He grew angry after his amendment failed to pass, saying that the “sky hasn’t fallen” in the other 25 states that have adopted such laws. He also asked colleagues to “not put a lot of value” in the opposition from the Lincoln and Omaha police.

In a perfect world, no one has a gun. But that’s not what the Constitution has given us.

– State Sen. Tom Brewer

“In a perfect world, no one has a gun,” Brewer said. “But that’s not what the Constitution has given us.”

The senator, a decorated military veteran who still competes in sniper competitions, decried that the rules of the Legislature required two-thirds of the 49 senators to override a filibuster.

“You’re seeing why the rules of this Legislature are broken and a small group of people can kill anything that’s good,” Brewer said.

Five supporters changed

In the end, five senators who voted “yes” to advance LB 733 from first-round debate voted “no” or “present and not voting” Monday on cloture. They were Sens. Carol Blood, Jen Day, Suzanne Geist, Robert Hilkemann and Mike McDonnell.

In addition, one senator voting “yes” on first-round, Omaha Sen. Rich Pahls, has been absent due to a medical issue and didn’t vote Monday.

 Hilkemann told his colleagues that after talking to a couple of constituents, including one who was a law enforcement officer, he didn’t feel LB 733 was a good idea. Day said 69% of the emails to her office were against the bill.

Sen. suzanne Geist
State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln. (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Geist, a conservative Republican and a concealed carry permit holder, said she loves guns and loves to target shoot but has also worked with both the Lincoln and Omaha police on legislation.

A ‘huge responsibility’

“It’s a huge responsibility,” Geist said, to carry a concealed weapon. However, she added, she would have given the bill the 33rd vote to invoke cloture, if it had gotten 32 votes instead of 31.

Brewer said later Monday that he had called every gun rights group in the nation so they can target those who voted against him for defeat.  

“We’re going to call out everyone who didn’t vote for the 2nd Amendment,” he said.

Brewer said he also regretted dissuading gun rights advocates from packing hearing rooms and hallways earlier this year as they did in 2020, when at least two men showed up openly carrying military-style rifles.

“I won’t make that mistake again,” he said. “We’re coming back. And it will be a different story.”

Hunt also responded later Monday night, saying the “revenge mindset … validates why this bill shouldn’t have passed. Reasonable supporters of the 2nd Amendment are not upset.”

Other advocates for gun control said they were “thrilled” by the rejection. 

“Allowing people to carry concealed handguns in public without a permit is dangerous and would have put our communities at risk,” said Katie Townley, a volunteer with the Nebraska chapter of Moms Demand Action. 

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.