Uniform enforcement of firearm regulations proposed

Firearm regulations would be consistent statewide under a bill considered by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Feb. 10.

Sen. Mike Hilgers

LB68, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, would authorize the state to regulate the registration, possession, transportation, transfer and storage of firearms and ammunition, overriding individual city and village ordinances. Cities and villages would retain the authority to enforce prohibitions on firearm discharge.

Hilgers said an inconsistency in policy that allows a “patchwork” of local ordinances regarding firearm possession creates the possibility that a responsible firearm owner could unknowingly violate city ordinances while traveling.

“Currently, local ordinances have created a patchwork of firearms laws throughout the state,” he said. “Nebraskans need and deserve consistent firearms regulations across the state so law-abiding citizens may remain law-abiding citizens.”

Representing the National Rifle Association, Chris Kopacki testified in support of the bill, calling it a good policy that provides a common sense solution to a real problem in the state. If a lawful firearm owner in Bellevue were to commute to Omaha with a gun in his vehicle, he said, that person could unknowingly be in violation of Omaha’s gun registry ordinance.

“There currently are over 50 different local ordinances in Nebraska,” Kopacki said. “[LB68] would simplify Nebraska firearm ordinances by keeping them consistent and fair across the state.”

Representing the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association, Dick Clark also supported the bill. He said it no longer makes sense to make gun policy at the local level in Nebraska.

“Authorization of these local ordinances may have once made sense, but they are now obsolete in 2017 because we live, work and travel very differently than we did in [the past],” he said.

Several members of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense opposed the bill, saying the perceived benefits of the bill were not worth the risks to public safety. Their opposition focused primarily on concerns that repealing local firearm ordinances could result in people openly carrying guns in public spaces like schools, university campuses, government buildings, community parks and domestic violence shelters.

In her opposition testimony, Rebecca Jewell of Lincoln said her sister was working as a teacher at Colorado’s Columbine High School when two students opened fire in the school’s cafeteria during lunch. Nearly 20 years later, she said, the trauma of that day continues to impact her sister and family.

“There is no evidence saying more guns result in a safer society — in fact the evidence shows just the opposite,” Jewell said. “Please don’t hand our rights to make local decisions for local [problems] away.”

Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt also testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of the council. Omaha passed a gun registry ordinance to combat gang violence, he said, but if LB68 were passed, that ordinance would become null and void.

“Omaha’s gun registry works and it is not in conflict with the state’s concealed carry law,” he said. “The proposed changes in LB68 are not needed and would be harmful to public safety.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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