Uniform enforcement of firearm regulations discussed

A bill discussed by lawmakers April 4 would override individual city and local ordinances, making firearm regulations consistent statewide.

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. Cities and villages would retain the authority to enforce prohibitions on firearm discharge.

Hilgers said the lack of a statewide policy allows a “patchwork” of local ordinances regarding firearm possession, creating the possibility that a responsible firearm owner could unknowingly violate city ordinances while traveling to different areas of the state.

“LB68 would remove a heavy burden placed on Nebraska citizens and their right to bear arms,” he said. “At the same time, this will leave the cities with tremendous ability to continue to fight and regulate gun violence.”

A pending Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee amendment would allow a city of the metropolitan class to prohibit handgun possession in public places. Exceptions to the prohibition would include safe transport in a vehicle, possession for instructional purposes and possession by concealed-carry permit holders and military members.

Omaha currently is the only metropolitan class city in Nebraska.

Committee chairperson Sen. John Murante said the amendment is the result of months of negotiations with Omaha police to address concerns about the ability of law enforcement to effectively fight gun violence in the city.

The amendment also would prohibit the open transportation of handguns and long guns within metropolitan class cities. It would require that firearms be unloaded and contained within an enclosed case or unloaded and broken down. There would be exceptions for firearm transport by law enforcement, concealed-carry permit holders, military members and other lawful activity that does not endanger public safety and has received proper legal approval.

Finally, the amendment would require that all firearms transported within a vehicle be unloaded and locked up, either in a trunk or a container other than the glove compartment or console. Concealed-carry permit holders and military members would be excluded from this requirement.

Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer supported the bill. His work teaching marksmanship to youth throughout the state has shown him that proper gun ownership can teach valuable life lessons, he said. Brewer said it is difficult for law abiding gun owners who travel throughout the state to know all of the potential local ordinances that they may be unintentionally violating.

“Criminals are going to do bad things regardless of what the law is, so we should concentrate on the impact on people who are doing good things,” he said. “Please remember that what we’re trying to do here is just to help the common person be able to do the right thing without going to jail for it or being fined for it.”

Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran also supported LB68. He said local ordinances are designed to combat gun violence, but legal gun owners practicing their constitutional rights could face serious penalties without statewide gun laws.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha introduced a motion to recommit the bill to committee. He said it is patterned on model legislation used nationally and does not allow for Nebraska communities to adopt ordinances that address local issues. The passage of the concealed carry permit law in 2007 was done so with the promise that municipalities would retain the right to create individualized ordinances, Chambers said, which would be violated under LB68.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld also opposed the bill, saying the compromise struck with Omaha completely goes against the purported intent of the bill to have one statewide policy. Lincoln currently has 32 categories of persons prohibited from possessing handguns, Morfeld said — all of whom would be able to possess weapons if the bill were passed.

He said the bill would remove a valuable tool from local law enforcement who are working in the community every day.

“[The bill] carves out one municipality that has gang violence to the detriment of other municipalities that have the same problems,” Morfeld said. “To provide these tools to Omaha and not to Lincoln is insulting, irresponsible and dangerous.”

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln also opposed LB68. She said it would nullify a current provision in Lincoln’s gun ordinance that prohibits handguns in domestic violence shelters and mental health facilities. Doing so while domestic violence homicides involving guns continues to increase is unacceptable, Bolz said.

The Legislature moved to the next item on the agenda without taking action on the bill.

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