Committee considers liability for firearm owners, ammunition offenses

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 23 on two bills that would create liability for firearm owners and would include ammunition in certain offenses involving firearms.

LB50, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, would prohibit unreasonable placement of a firearm where a minor may unlawfully possess it.

The bill would impose liability for civil damages if a gun owner—who is 19 years or older—unreasonably leaves the firearm in a place where a minor or a mentally incompetent person may take possession of it.

Ashford said the purpose of the bill was to prevent “catastrophic instances” of juveniles and mentally ill persons obtaining firearms to commit crimes.

“This is a personal responsibility measure. It does not prevent an individual from purchasing, possessing or using a firearm in a legal manner,” he said.

No one testified in support of the bill.

John Wallace of the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, testified in opposition, saying it failed to define what would be considered “reasonable storage” of firearms.

“[The bill] opens up the door for civil liability for law abiding gun owners,” he said.

Ron Jensen, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, also testified in opposition, and said the bill is redundant. If tragedies result from gun owners improperly storing their guns, he said, they already would be liable under current law.

Ashford also introduced LB148, which would include ammunition in offenses involving the transfer of firearms.

LB148 would impose the following changes:

  • a Class ID felony for a first offense for possession of a deadly weapon that is a firearm—or ammunition—by a prohibited person, and a Class IB felony for subsequent offenses;
  • a Class III felony for the unlawful transfer of a firearm—or ammunition—to a juvenile;
  • a Class III felony for the possession of a deadly weapon that is not a firearm—or ammunition—by a prohibited person; and
  • a Class IV felony for transferring a firearm—or ammunition—to a person who is prohibited from receipt or possession of such items by state or federal law.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine testified in support of the bill, saying it mirrors current federal law.

“About 95 percent of [firearm] cases are prosecuted by state attorneys not federal [attorneys], so we need a state law to enact ourselves,” he said.

Jerry Soucie, a private attorney, testified in opposition to the bill, saying the use of ammunition varies statewide among rural and urban communities.

“There will be a mirror application of this statute throughout the state, but the crimes would not be prosecuted the same,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on either bill.

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