LINCOLN — Firearms advocates want Nebraska lawmakers to block any new federal gun control regulations at the state line.
But it was State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha who was locked and loaded Wednesday during hearings on four gun bills before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Two of the proposals would allow the state to ignore future federal gun control laws, such as bans on assault-type rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines under consideration by Congress.
Sparks flew during questioning by Chambers, who pledged to fight the bills. One audience member was escorted out when he blurted his disagreement over such questioning.
But the heavy turnout also underscored the deep distrust many gun owners hold for the federal government, especially when it comes to what they see as infringement of the Second Amendment.
Most of the crowd turned out to support Legislative Bill 451, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont. The bill would nullify national gun restrictions or registration requirements passed after Jan. 1.
Chambers chastised Janssen for submitting the bill. Chambers reminded the Republican candidate for governor he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution when he was elected to serve in the Legislature.
“I do support the Constitution, but I will not blindly do so,” Janssen said. “If I think if something is wrong and is infringing on the rights of citizens, I must stand up.”
Chambers also sharply questioned Lincoln County Sheriff Jerome Kramer and Grant County Sheriff Shawn Hebbert, both supporters of the Janssen bill.
He wanted to know, if the bill were passed, how the sheriffs would respond to FBI agents who came to their counties to enforce federal ban laws. Both said they would either ticket or attempt to arrest the agents.
“I am shocked,” Chambers replied. “I am shocked that a sheriff would come here and say federal law can be trumped by a (state) statute.”
Much of the hearing involved debates over the federal government's ability to impose and enforce national law and the state's right to reject federal mandates. Chambers called the bill unconstitutional and unenforceable. Gun owners called proposed federal regulations unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Elaine Steinbeck of Grand Island described herself as a wife, mother and grandmother who owns a gun.
She decried what she views as the overreach of the federal government, especially when it comes to gun control regulations that she believes President Barack Obama has said he may institute by executive order.
“When the power is assumed by leaders and no one questions it or stops it from happening, then power is taken,” she said.
The committee also took up a related proposal, LB 602, sponsored by Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins.
Bloomfield dubbed the bill the Nebraska Firearm Freedoms Act because it would let manufacturers in the state make guns and ammo otherwise banned by federal law, as long as the products remained in the state.
The committee also heard testimony on a proposal to make confidential what are now public records on permits to purchase and register handguns. LB 293 was introduced in response to a New York newspaper that published the names and addresses of some 44,000 gun owners after the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, who named the bill his priority, said such publication could lead criminals to break into houses hoping to steal firearms or target residences without guns.
News media representatives testified against the bill. While they called the actions of the New York paper irresponsible, they said there are legitimate reasons to keep the records public, such as tracking gun ownership in the wake of a crime.
The final proposal heard Wednesday was LB 352 by Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial. It bill would establish requirements for the size and positioning of signs in private businesses that ban concealed handguns.
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