A ban on military-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines would be a distraction in the national face-off on taming gun violence, according to Nebraska and Iowa gun owners and others in the debate.
The focus should be on enforcing existing gun laws, enhancing school security and increasing access to mental health services, they said.
President Barack Obama's plan to reduce gun violence met with a mix of opposition, skepticism and support Wednesday in the Midlands.
Wesley Dickinson of Papillion, president of the 5,000-member Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, said he was disappointed that the White House focused on potential new laws that would restrict law-abiding citizens from legally purchasing firearms and accessories for self-defense or other lawful purposes.
He said the authorities would achieve more by enforcing existing gun laws.
“The criminals who perpetrated the recent tragedies broke dozens of existing gun laws,'' he said. “Simply passing more new laws won't stop evil criminals from doing evil things because criminals, by definition, break laws.''
Aaron Dorr of Des Moines, executive director of the 15,000-member Iowa Gun Owners, said the president's proposed bans wouldn't have prevented any of the mass killings because they occurred in places where weapons already were prohibited.
“To think that we can legislate conformity from criminals smacks of elitist hypocrisy,'' Dorr said. “The whole thing was ridiculous.''
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov applauded the president's push to improve mental health services.
Polikov said his experience — 26 years as a sheriff's deputy and 14 years as county attorney — taught him that early intervention is vital.
“We've got to see them early and prevent them from stepping over the side,'' he said. “The irony is that we'll never know the result of that. You never know what you prevented.''
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said the president's mental health initiatives dovetail with a bill on early intervention and screening that he plans to introduce in the next few days.
The bill would create a new Office of Juvenile Assistance under the Nebraska Supreme Court to provide mental health treatment and services for young people who are in the justice system for any reason.
He said countless young people, especially in hot spots like north Omaha, are directly affected by pervasive gun violence and often suffer undiagnosed mental illness. The average age of a gun violence victim in Omaha is 19, he said.
Ashford said he also plans to introduce a bill to require a permit when handgun ownership is transferred from one person to another. He already has introduced bills to prohibit juveniles from purchasing ammunition and to prohibit placing a firearm where a juvenile may unlawfully possess it.
Scott Smathers, executive director of the Lincoln-based Nebraska Sportsmen's Foundation, said most of his organization's 3,000 members won't resist enhanced background checks before purchasing firearms.
“We have nothing to hide,'' he said.
But Smathers expressed concern about the potential for violations of privacy rights, such as the release of personal health information, if background checks dig deep into an individual's personal information.
He said the organization is not insensitive to gun violence but firmly opposes the proposed bans on military-style rifles and large magazines.
No law would have stopped the mentally ill man who slaughtered children and teachers at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., last month after taking his mother's guns and killing her, Smathers said.
John Dineen, Sol's Jewelry & Loan general manager, said the background check now required of firearm purchasers does a good job of denying felons and others weapons.
“But like the president said, no law will stop all violent acts,'' he said. “There are people who do horrible things.''
Dineen said he sometimes denies gun purchases by people he suspects would be illegal owners, even if they passed the federal background check.
Andy Allen of Omaha, the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association lobbyist, said prohibiting certain types of firearms and restricting magazine capacities were a failed experiment when tried from 1994 to 2004.
He said several national studies of the 1994 ban on semi-automatic rifles and standard 30-bullet magazines had no measurable effect on crime rates.
“Limitations just tell people to carry more guns and magazines,'' he said. “History tells us that will happen.''
Dickinson, the Nebraska firearms president, said the nation's focus should be on protecting children and school security. He supports armed security guards at schools.
“Schools are safe. We need to make them secure,'' he said. “We need to protect kids from the threat of evil people doing evil things with guns, knives or a gallon of gas and matches.''
The Nebraska Firearms Owners Association bills itself as the voice of state firearms owners. Its members include trap shooters, long-range rifle shooters, concealed handgun permit holders, hunters and firearms enthusiasts.
The group's website maintains an “unfriendly business list'' of places in Nebraska that prohibit guns on the premises or have anti-firearm sales policies.
A blog this week by John Wallace of Lincoln, the group's secretary, reassured members that the association is standing up for their Second Amendment rights.
“You know as well as I do that the Second Amendment has little to do with hunting or sport shooting, but is intended to provide a deterrent, and if necessary, a defense from tyranny,'' Wallace wrote. “We will stay vigilant and keep working hard ... to ensure preservation of your Second Amendment Rights.''
The association is a member of the newly organized National Coalition to Stop the Gun Ban. The coalition's objective is to derail the Obama administration's initiatives without compromise. More than two dozen state and national organizations are members.
State Sen. Scott Price of Papillion, a member of the Legislature's Sportsmen's Caucus and a defender of the right to bear arms, said perspective is an important part of the gun violence debate.
“Is the problem the weapon or the person?” he said.
Allen said there is no perfect solution to gun violence. A good answer will be found by all sides working together.
“But the president needs to understand that when it comes to the firearms owners in Nebraska, there will be no compromise,'' he said. “We can't legislate every move.''
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