Exemption to school firearm prohibition considered

A bill that would add off-duty peace officers to the list of individuals allowed to carry a firearm on school property was heard by the Judiciary Committee Jan. 26.

Sen. George Dungan
Sen. George Dungan

Current state law prohibits an individual from carrying a firearm on school grounds with the exception of on-duty law enforcement, members of the Armed Forces and National Guard and certain individuals in other limited circumstances. LB17, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, would add full-time, off-duty peace officers to that list.

Dungan brought an amendment to the hearing to specify that off-duty peace officers would be authorized to carry a firearm only when on school property for the purpose of picking up or dropping off a child.

“This bill would not allow off-duty peace officers to enter school grounds with firearms for any other purpose — for example, a sporting event or a parent-teacher conference,” he said.

Off-duty peace officers currently face logistical challenges when picking up or dropping off their children due to the nature of their work, Dungan said. An amended version of LB17 would address that issue, he said, without adding any additional risks to students.

“The presence of armed, off-duty officers would not pose a safety hazard in these limited instances,” Dungan said. “Law enforcement officers undergo rigorous weapons training and therefore have a clear understanding of firearms and their capabilities.”

Jim Maguire testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Fraternal Order of Police. Peace officers are highly trained in handling firearms and in the laws that address when, and if, the use of force is justified, he said. 

“The last thing we want to have is some kind of an inadvertent violation of the law where an officer leaves work armed to pick up their kids,” Maguire said. 

Capt. William Rinn of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office also testified in favor of the proposal. Law enforcement officials in Nebraska are some of the most highly trained in the use of firearms, he said, and are the most qualified to intervene in a violent situation.

“Success of this bill will remove obstacles that will allow officers to provide immediate support to arriving armed uniform officers [in the event of a violent situation], which is active-shooter protocol,” Rinn said.

Speaking in opposition to LB17 was Melody Vaccaro, representing Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. Society expects police officers to protect the public, Vaccaro said, but officers also are expected to uphold the law themselves. Off-duty peace officers shouldn’t have a law changed just because the current prohibition might be difficult for them to follow, she said.

“We’re increasingly concerned about law enforcement being carved out of following the laws that the rest of us need to follow,” Vaccaro said. 

The committee took no immediate action on LB17.

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