Repeal of concealed handgun permit requirement clears first round

A bill that would remove the requirement for a concealed handgun permit in Nebraska was amended and advanced from general file March 3 after a successful cloture motion.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

Current state law requires that an individual pass a background check, submit a $100 permit fee and complete a gun safety course to obtain a concealed carry permit. LB77, introduced by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would waive those requirements. An individual not otherwise prohibited from possessing or carrying a gun in Nebraska would be allowed to conceal carry without a permit.

LB77 would prohibit counties, cities and villages from regulating ownership, possession or transportation of a concealed handgun.

Brewer noted that LB77 is his fourth attempt to pass a “constitutional carry” bill — supporters’ term for removing restrictions on the right to carry a firearm. People should not have to prove that they are worthy of a constitutional right, he said.

“A person in Nebraska should not have to pay money to the government in order to exercise a constitutional right,” Brewer said. “That right is about carrying defensive arms without interference by state or local governments.”

He offered an amendment that would subject an individual to an additional misdemeanor charge for carrying a firearm or destructive device while committing certain “dangerous” misdemeanor crimes, including harassment, stalking, domestic violence, shoplifting and resisting arrest, among others.

Under the amendment, an individual would be subject to a Class I misdemeanor for a first or second offense and a Class IV felony for a third or subsequent offense.

Brewer said the amendment was intended to address law enforcement concerns that LB77 would make it easier for prohibited persons and the mentally ill to obtain a gun. Brewer said the amended version of the bill would garner the support of the Nebraska Sheriffs Association, the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska and the Police Officers Association of Nebraska and bring the Omaha police union to a neutral position on the bill.

Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht spoke in support of LB77 and the Brewer amendment, saying the proposal would not allow felons, perpetrators of domestic violence, those with dangerous mental illnesses or other prohibited persons to carry weapons.

“What it will do is authorize conceal carry without a permit by people who can legally possess a firearm,” she said.

Also in support of LB77 was Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood. The bill would make it possible for all Nebraskans to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms, he said, by removing unnecessary impediments.

“The constant training and applying for a concealed carry license can prevent low-income individuals from obtaining a permit,” Clements said. “Constitutional carry makes it possible for hardworking, low-income [and] law-abiding citizens to protect themselves without an undue burden.”

Dunbar Sen. Julie Slama spoke in favor of the bill and the amendment. Twenty-five states already allow for constitutional carry, she said, including several of Nebraska’s neighbors such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota.

“We haven’t heard a thing about any of those states turning into the Wild West,” Slama said.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne expressed concern over the pending amendment. While in favor of a provision in the underlying bill that would eliminate Omaha’s gun registry, he said the ability to stack charges under the amendment also could have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

“I’m struggling with more Black and brown kids — based on the testimony in the hearing — being charged and going to prison for, if not significant time, maybe life,” Wayne said.

Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha shared those concerns. Speaking in opposition, he said the amendment would create new offenses and consecutive sentences for certain misdemeanors.

In addition, Cavanaugh said, the amendment contains substantive changes to the bill which should have been vetted by the committee process.

Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould spoke in opposition to the bill and the amendment. Commonsense public safety laws help keep guns out of places where they don’t belong, she said, and ensure that those who conceal carry in public have undergone a background check and gun owner safety training.

Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children, Raybould said, and more than half of suicides in the U.S. are committed by firearm.

“The responsible gun owners that I talk to find it critically important that folks get the training, including safe handling and safe storage of both the firearm and the ammo,” Raybould said.

Lincoln Sen. George Dungan also opposed the bill and the Brewer amendment, saying individuals who use dangerous weapons should be properly trained. Certain law enforcement agencies are in opposition to LB77 because they believe it will impact their safety and the safety of the citizens they are sworn to protect, he said.

“Data supports that if you increase the amount of firearms in [a] situation, you’re going to see increased harm, increased injury, and I think you’re going to see increased physical and emotional trauma moving forward,” Dungan said.

After eight hours of first-round debate over three days, Brewer filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ends debate and forces a vote on the bill and any pending amendments. The motion succeeded on a vote of 36-10. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Lawmakers then voted 34-11 to adopt the Brewer amendment and voted down a pending motion from Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to bracket the bill.

Senators advanced LB77 to select file on a vote of 36-12.

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