LINCOLN — Do guns and governing mix?
We may find out at the State Capitol.
A Papillion senator wants to allow people to bring legally concealed weapons into the historic, high-rise home of the Nebraska Legislature, Supreme Court and Governor's Office.
Currently, at least eight states, including Wisconsin, allow people who have valid state concealed weapons permits to carry their hidden firearms within their state capitols. Two states allow it with or without such a license.
State Sen. Bill Kintner said he's exploring introducing a bill.
Last week, he passed out fliers to fellow senators urging them to consider ending the Capitol's status as a “gun-free killing zone.” That's a phrase used by gun-rights advocates to describe places where weapons are banned, leaving people unarmed and vulnerable to an armed intruder.
Ohio, the state senator's former home state, recently passed a law allowing permit holders there to have concealed weapons in vehicles in parking lots next to the Ohio State Capitol.
But Nebraska, he said, ought to go a step further and allow concealed weapons inside its State Capitol.
“We don't have good security at all,” Kintner said. “If you can carry (a concealed handgun) anywhere else, you ought to be able to carry it in the 'people's house.'”
Reaction to the idea was mixed, with some senators saying they needed more details.
Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill said that allowing people with concealed weapons around the Capitol wouldn't make her feel safer, noting that armed troopers from the Nebraska State Patrol already guard the legislative chambers and committee hearings.
“They're here to protect us if there's any disruptions,” McGill said.
The speaker of the Legislature, Sen. Greg Adams of York, also was cool to the idea. “I wouldn't have much interest in that,” he said.
But Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen, who, like Kintner, is a gun-rights advocate, said he would “absolutely love” to be able to carry a concealed gun at the Capitol.
“I want people to think I'm carrying (a gun),” said Christensen, who has passed the course to obtain a concealed gun permit.
Gov. Dave Heineman did not respond to a request for comment on the subject. In the past, he has opposed another security suggestion for the State Capitol: adding metal detectors at entrances. The governor has said that would detract from the openness and accessibility of the building.
Kintner's idea touches on a major issue in the gun debate across the country: whether public safety is enhanced by reducing the number of guns or by encouraging more people to be armed.
Security at government buildings has been an issue off and on for several years, and has flared anew since the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.
Following the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, several government buildings were modified with barriers and metal detectors.
Visitors to Iowa's State Capitol have had to pass through metal detectors since 2002. Nebraska's Capitol has had metal detectors in place outside the Nebraska Supreme Court and Court of Appeals chambers since 1996.
State laws in Iowa and Nebraska currently bar concealed guns within their state capitols, which are patrolled by security guards.
Both states also prohibit legally concealed guns in other locations. In Nebraska, for instance, concealed weapons are not allowed at government meetings, on school grounds, or at churches, hospitals, financial institutions, jails or law enforcement offices, or professional or semi-pro athletic events. Private businesses can also ban guns in their establishments by posting signs. Churches and banks can allow their security guards to carry concealed guns.
Kintner, who took office in January, said he was surprised by the lack of security at the Nebraska Capitol.
“In my area, there's more guns than people. It's very natural, in our nature,” he said, referring to his district, which covers Cass County and parts of Sarpy and Otoe Counties.
His legislative office sits on the first floor, and the senator said that an armed gunman could walk in a nearby entrance unimpeded, because state troopers are usually stationed on the second floor.
“That's not a good situation,” said Kintner, whose wife, Lauren, also works at the Capitol. She heads the governor's policy research office.
It would take a change in state law to allow concealed guns in the Capitol, and Kintner said it may take a change in membership in the Legislature before he could win approval of his idea.
He introduced and prioritized a bill this year to make confidential the identities of those who buy and register handguns. But Legislative Bill 293 failed by one vote to advance from the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, meaning that it won't be debated by all 49 senators this year.
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