Gov. Jim Pillen signs bill for concealed carry of handguns without permit or training
State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln was denied an attorney general’s opinion on the proposal
Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen signs State Sen. Tom Brewer’s proposal to allow concealed carry of handguns without a permit or training on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Brewer, at left, and nearly half of Nebraska’s state senators joined the signing. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Gov. Jim Pillen on Tuesday celebrated signing a bill to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed handguns legally without a state permit or state-mandated gun safety training.
Legislative Bill 77, the long-fought proposal championed by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, passed April 19 on a 33-14 vote. The new law will strip the authority of officials in Omaha and Lincoln to enforce stricter city gun ordinances.
LB 77 will become law about three months after the Legislature adjourns, which is currently scheduled for June 9.
“It’s an incredible day for Nebraska,” Pillen said, because approving Brewer’s proposal affirms the Nebraska Constitution.
“With the signing of this bill into law, we do justice to the constitutional promise,” Pillen said. “Promises made, promises kept.”
Brewer, who has sought passage of such a bill throughout his seven years in office, celebrated “Second Amendment-loving people” in Nebraska and his colleagues for sticking with him on the proposal.
“They knew what right was and they knew that we had to get the Constitution back to where it should be and give the rights back that should have never been taken away in the first place,” Brewer said.
Vows to continue opposition
State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, a freshman senator who has led opposition to Brewer’s bill, indicated Tuesday that the fight on the issue is not over just yet.
“It’s not talking about just concealed handguns,” Raybould said. “It’s expansive, and it preempts a lot of our laws.”
Raybould sought legal guidance from Attorney General Mike Hilgers about the implementation of the bill but was turned down after the bill passed.
On April 12, a week before the bill was scheduled for final debate, Raybould requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on how the bill should be implemented, specifically in the City of Lincoln.
The request included four questions workshopped with Lincoln officials:
- Would a city or other political subdivision have the ability to prohibit concealed handguns in publicly controlled or jointly owned property?
- Would a city or other political subdivisions have the ability to prohibit other concealed weapons or firearms on publicly controlled or jointly owned property?
- Would a city or other political subdivisions have the ability to prohibit openly carried weapons or firearms on publicly controlled or jointly owned property?
- Would a city or other political subdivisions have the ability to prohibit concealed handguns or weapons on public transportation?
Raybould also asked Speaker John Arch that day to delay the final reading of LB 77 until Hilgers issued an opinion so lawmakers could “take the information under consideration prior to voting on the bill.”
In an April 21 letter to Raybould, Hilgers denied her request, saying legislators may request opinions “which pertain only to pending or proposed legislation.” That was last Friday, two days after final passage of the bill. Pillen had not signed the measure yet, however, and he still could have vetoed the bill, sending it back to the Legislature.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the attorney general said Tuesday their office was unaware of future debate timing.
“Our office expedited the request and seven days was not sufficient time to issue the opinion,” the spokesperson said. “Our office was not made aware of scheduling of final reading until the day before debate.”
Raybould said she questioned this delay because Brewer had pursued such a bill for seven years, so there should already be a “vast knowledge” within the attorney general’s reach.
Raybould said Hilgers should have at least informed her that an opinion would not be ready.
Raybould said that the City of Lincoln needs answers on how to best implement the policy and that Hilgers’ response was “certainly disrespectful” to the Legislature.
Before being elected attorney general, Hilgers served as a state senator for six years, just down the hall from his new office. In 2017, as a senator, Hilgers introduced a bill regarding the regulation of firearms by counties, cities or villages; LB 77 borrows language from that proposal.
Raybould said Hilgers is required by law to issue opinions requested by various governmental agencies, including the Legislature.
“Because they don’t have the answers to these really legitimate questions,” Raybould said of Lincoln officials, “I guess they’ll leave it up to their own discretion and interpretation.”
Raybould said the opinion request timeline calls into question whether the proposal was “pending” and whether the three-month delay in LB 77 going into effect means it is still “pending.”
Raybould said she and former State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln had discussed their concerns with LB 77 together prior to Geist’s April 6 resignation. Geist had voted for the bill in its first round of debate but voted “present” in the second round on March 28. Her successor, State Sen. Carolyn Bosn, voted for the bill on final passage.
Geist told the Examiner on Tuesday that she had considered seeking an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office based on her concerns but didn’t follow through because her request would be “null and void” should she leave the Legislature.
The Attorney General’s Office is required to defend the state’s laws if they face legal challenges.
Brewer expressed confidence in the bill’s constitutionality because, over the past seven years, he said, he and his staff have looked at “every nook and cranny” and every angle. The bill is also written in line with similar measures in other states.
Legal counsel analysis
Dick Clark, legal counsel for the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which Brewer chairs, said the answer would be “yes” to all of Raybould’s questions except the final one, about carrying a concealed weapon on public transportation.
Clark, who previously lobbied for gun and accessory legislation, said businesses or publicly controlled organizations could still prohibit weapons and LB 77 does not preempt laws prohibiting weapons in prisons, jails or courthouse buildings. He said buildings must have conspicuous signage at each entrance.
One of the main changes with LB 77, Clark said, is amending the law to apply generally and not just to permit holders.
It would be difficult to prohibit weapons at an open-air park, for example, while a location such as Sunken Gardens in Lincoln that has set entrances would be different, according to Clark.
Regarding public transportation, Clark said there is less clarity on whether a vehicle counts as a “place or premises,” as outlined in the bill. Food trucks or mobile hair salons are premises, “so it wouldn’t be unprecedented to have four wheels under your premises,” he added.
LB 77 is among the first major proposals approved during Pillen’s first year in office.
“This bill is just the first step of what is going to be a historic legislative session,” Pillen said. “We’re just getting started.”
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