Bill would eliminate handgun purchase certificate, change background check requirements

A measure that would remove a provision in state law that requires a county-issued certificate to purchase a handgun in Nebraska was considered Feb. 22 by the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, sponsor of LB883, said the bill was brought to him by the Nebraska State Patrol to bring the state in line with the rest of the country.

Brewer said that under current law, county sheriff’s offices are required to perform a background check before issuing the certificate, which is valid for three years and can be used during that time to purchase handguns in lieu of a background check at the point of sale. One problem with the current system is the three-year timeframe, he said.

If a certificate holder commits a crime or is the subject of a protection order – or any other circumstance that would disqualify them from purchasing a handgun – before the certificate expires, Brewer said, there is no process for law enforcement to be notified and to rescind the certificate.

Instead of the current system, LB883 would harmonize the requirement to purchase a handgun with the state’s requirements for long guns and shotguns, which require a background check for every retail purchase at the point of sale through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

“We’re just trying to clean that up so it’s safer for everyone involved, so that you don’t have people fall through the cracks,” Brewer said.

He added that the $5 certificate fee is not enough to cover the cost to counties to perform a background check and issue the certificate.

Kelsey Remmers, who manages the NICS program for the Nebraska State Patrol, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the NSP. She said LB883 would enhance public safety by requiring a NICS query for any handgun purchased. Nebraska currently is the only state in the country with a separate, state-level background check for handgun purchases that allows a permit to be used instead of a NICS background check to purchase a handgun, she said.

“This [bill] would increase the [number] of background checks occurring at the time of purchase, which is important because firearm-prohibiting information continues to be updated and/or entered into federal databases daily,” Remmers said. “Confirming eligibility regularly utilizing a NICS background check is in the best interest of public safety and is paramount in the effort to ensure firearms stay out of the hands of prohibited individuals.”

Testifying in opposition was Sharon O’Neal of Lincoln, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. If the current certificate program is an unfunded mandate on counties, she said, the solution would be to fund the system adequately, not to discontinue the certificate process – especially at a time when gun homicides and suicides continue to rise.

“I urge you not to reduce our gun safety laws,” O’Neal said.

Chief Deputy William Rinn of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department offered neutral testimony on LB883. He agreed that three years is too long for the current handgun purchase certificate to be in effect, and acknowledged that not all county sheriff’s offices have the resources that Douglas County enjoys. On the other hand, Rinn said, his office has at times caught information missed in a NICS search that disqualified individuals from purchasing a handgun.

“The NICS process is not perfect,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

Bookmark and Share