Omaha, Lincoln police chiefs call ‘constitutional carry’ of concealed weapons dangerous
Advocates say that people shouldn’t have to pay to exercise their right to bear arms
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon renewed on Thursday his effort to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a state permit or training. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Police chiefs from Omaha and Lincoln opposed the latest proposal to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a state permit and required training, saying Thursday that it was dangerous.
“This bill jeopardizes the safety of our city,” said Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins.
Concern about ‘loopholes’
Omaha Chief Todd Schmaderer told members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee that the proposal would do away with important ordinances in Omaha that have helped reduce violent crime in recent years.
Newly elected Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hanson, a former Omaha officer, joined Schmaderer in objecting specifically to “loopholes” in the proposal that reduced the penalties for carrying a concealed weapon in the commission of a crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“I do not want to reverse our decline in violent crime,” Schmaderer said.
“Let’s see if we can strike a smart balance. Let’s make sure we don’t create unintended loopholes for criminals,” said Hanson.
He said Omaha police confiscated a record 1,458 firearms in 2022, and that Omaha ordinances that require registration of handguns and restrict how guns can be transported should not be rescinded.
Under Legislative Bill 77, the latest “constitutional carry” proposal from State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, cities and counties would be prohibited from regulating firearms.
Brewer said he has tried “carve outs” to allow Omaha and Lincoln to keep their gun ordinances, but that created constitutional concerns and a “patchwork” of laws that made you a criminal in one town and not another. The state association of criminal defense attorneys said they supported the bill because it standardized gun laws across the state.
LB 77, which has 25 co-sponsors in the 49-member Unicameral, is a “clean” way to allow Nebraskans to exercise their right to bear arms, Brewer said, without needing to pay a $100 fee and undergo a training course that can cost a couple hundred dollars more.
Guns for self protection
“There are scenarios where having a gun makes the difference between your family surviving or not,” the senator said.
He cited the rioting in Lincoln after the death of George Floyd when all local law enforcement was involved in protecting the State Capitol and Lancaster County Courthouse from damage.
“There was no one to come to your aid if someone was breaking into your house,” Brewer said. “What are you going to do?”
He was joined in his support by dozens of gun rights advocates, who filled a hallway of the State Capitol as they waited to testify.
Shouldn’t have to pay for right
Brewer, who has introduced similar bills since he took office in 2017 — and came two votes short of advancement last year — argued that Nebraskans should not have to pay to exercise their right to bear arms, comparing it to “poll tax” charged in the post Civil War era to prevent Blacks from voting.
“The only protection I have is my sidearm,” said one supporter of LB 77, Bruce Desautels of Stratton.
Other backers said that people shouldn’t have to wait to obtain a gun, and that women, especially, need firearms for self protection. Nebraska, they argued, should join the 25 other states — including five of six adjacent states — that allow carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
But several opponents of the bill said that allowing easier access to guns would increase mass shootings and allow arguments to turn deadly.
Worsens a serious problem
Two recent homicides in Lincoln — one a road rage incident and another a dispute over a dog — were cited as examples of situations escalating with the availability of a gun.
“There is a serious problem now with too many guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” said John Lee of Lincoln. “This would only add to problems that already exist.”
Lee brought a black-powder rifle, built in 1869, to the Capitol Thursday to illustrate that the single-shot, slowly reloaded rifle was what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind when they provided a right to bear arm — not the rapid fire assault rifles of today.
Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney had several questions for Omaha area law enforcement officials about whether allowing Omaha to keep its gun ordinances was unfair for the Black community, and helped cause the disproportionate “harassment” of Blacks in traffic stops.
No guns allowed
Hanson said it is an issue of “balance,” because minorities are disproportionately victims of crime.
Unlike in 2020, when at least two gun-rights advocates openly carried assault-style rifles in the Capitol — which is permitted — displays of guns Thursday were discouraged.
State Sen. Justin Wayne, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said that props, like signs, are not allowed in the hearing room and the ban included open display of guns.
Lee, who carried his antique rifle in a Capitol hallway, put it away before testifying Thursday.
(A recent attempt to ban the open carrying of guns in the State Capitol by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh failed. Concealed weapons are not allowed in the Capitol because the building includes two courtrooms.)
A planned executive session Thursday to decide whether to advance LB 77 to debate by the full Legislature was put off until later. Wayne said some senators on the committee wanted to talk to Brewer first.
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