LINCOLN — State Sen. Justin Wayne opened debate Thursday on his gun bill by telling the story of an Omaha teenager who did “a rolling drive-by down the street of my mother’s house.”
Wayne, an Omaha attorney, had represented the gunman when he was a troubled juvenile fond of saying, “I love to shoot.” Despite repeated rehabilitation stints in juvenile lockups, the kid never successfully completed a program.
And under current law, when the young man turned 19, he could legally buy an AR-15 despite his juvenile criminal history.
Wayne’s fellow senators in the Nebraska Legislature voted 30-1 Thursday to advance a bill aimed at restricting gun possession by young adults with serious juvenile records. Legislative Bill 990 would close a loophole that allows a violent young offender to buy a gun when he turns 19.
The measure would label such an offender a juvenile prohibited person and block them from purchasing a gun until they turn 25. Violations under the bill would be felony offenses.
The bill would apply to juveniles convicted of felony-level offenses or misdemeanor domestic violence. It would not restrict the gun rights for young adults who successfully complete behavioral programming or who are members of the military.
“This bill is not about gun control; this bill is about the safety of our society,” Wayne said.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha cast the lone “no” vote. Chambers said he has crusaded for years to get police to stanch the flow of guns into Omaha’s black community. He argued that racism explains why authorities arrest black people for gun crimes but never seem to bust gun suppliers.
“We know they don’t care about us,” Chambers said. “This bill will be used against us.”
The bill has the strong support of county attorneys, the Omaha Police Department and the unions for police and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies. An association of criminal defense lawyers and Voices for Children, a group that advocates for juvenile justice policy, testified against the bill at a public hearing.
The bill took a relatively easy path to first-round approval, considering that some members of the Judiciary Committee were reluctant to advance it to the floor. They expressed concerns that it will saddle more young adults with felonies, which can make it more difficult for them to gain employment or qualify for educational assistance.