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Nebraska state senator to try again to allow 'constitutional carry' of handguns

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LINCOLN — State Sen. Tom Brewer, a decorated veteran who knows something about overcoming adversity, is loading up another effort to obtain a victory that has eluded gun-rights advocates in Nebraska.

Brewer said he will introduce a proposal during the upcoming legislative session to allow Nebraskans to carry a concealed handgun without meeting the current requirements of a criminal background check, a $100 fee and an eight- to 16-hour class on safe gun handling.

State Sen. Tom Brewer mug (copy) (copy)

Brewer

Constitutional carry — which refers to the belief that the U.S. Constitution already gives people the right to carry concealed guns — is a hot-button issue that has previously failed in the Nebraska Legislature. But it’s the law of the land in 21 states, including every state surrounding Nebraska except Colorado.

As of Nov. 1, there were more than 85,671 Nebraskans licensed to carry concealed weapons.

Earlier this year, Brewer abandoned a proposal that would have allowed Nebraska counties, with the exception of the three largest — Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties — to decide whether to allow permit-less carry of concealed handguns. Brewer’s decision came after a Nebraska attorney general’s opinion raised serious constitutional concerns about delegating a state matter to county boards.

But Brewer, who represents Nebraska’s traditionally conservative Sandhills, got a boost recently from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Speaking during a town hall meeting organized by the National Rifle Association, Ricketts pledged to sign a statewide constitutional carry bill if it reaches his desk. While that was hardly a surprise, the pledge did reinforce the governor’s pro-gun credentials.

“Law abiding Nebraskans who are legally allowed to own a firearm should not have to jump through hoops to exercise their constitutional rights,” Ricketts said in a statement this past week.

Brewer, who served six tours in Afghanistan and was wounded multiple times, agreed, and said that neighboring states have not reported “issues” with allowing concealed carry without training or background checks.

“I don’t see the downside of it,” he said.

But the executive director of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence said she sees problems, especially for law enforcement, if people can carry concealed weapons without criminal records checks or safety courses.

“The long and short of it is that guns are dangerous,” said Melody Vaccaro of Lincoln. “And it is not too much to ask people to go through some basic steps before carrying a loaded gun.”

Passage of such a constitutional carry bill is not guaranteed, and squeezing it into a legislative agenda already loaded with several time-consuming debates will be difficult.

Here are some of the obstacles facing a constitutional carry bill in the 60-day, 2022 session that begins Jan. 5:

It’s a new proposal, which will require a public hearing, advancement by a legislative committee, then three rounds of debate and approval. Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, the speaker of the Legislature, has already said it will be a busy session, with debates over how to spend federal COVID-19 aid presenting another issue.

A constitutional carry bill would likely be referenced to the Judiciary Committee, which hasn’t been friendly to similar proposals. Brewer has said he will likely have to introduce a “pull motion” to advance the bill to the floor of the Legislature for debate without the committee’s consent. If the Judiciary Committee voted to kill the bill in committee, such a pull motion would require votes from 30 of the 49 state senators, instead of the usual 25 votes.

Some law enforcement agencies have concerns about removing regulation of concealed carry. While the Omaha Police Union testified in favor of Brewer’s 2021 gun bill because it allowed Omaha and other urban areas to retain more restrictive firearm laws, the union has concerns about allowing concealed carry statewide without training and a background check.

Sgt. Aaron Hanson, the legislative liaison for the union, said his organization is working with Brewer to find a compromise that “respects the rights of law-abiding gun owners but doesn’t create loopholes for criminals.”

“We have seen unintended consequences result from well-intentioned legislative efforts in other states and we don’t want to repeat that in Nebraska,” Hanson said.

In the past, he’s pointed out that gun laws differ in Omaha as compared to areas like the Sandhills. For instance, you can openly carry a firearm legally across the state, but in Omaha, a concealed carry permit is required to do that.

Gun rights are a hot-button issue, the kind of a controversial issue that some legislators would rather avoid weighing in on during an election year. That means there will likely be maneuvering to keep the bill from reaching debate by the full Legislature, and from senators taking a vote on the issue.

Brewer said he will get a priority designation for his proposal, increasing the chances that it will be debated, and has at least 25 supporters for his bill — a majority of senators, but short of 33 needed to fend off a filibuster. He thinks senators should weigh in on the issue ahead of the 2022 elections.

“We’ll see who has the kahoonas to filibuster a Second Amendment bill during an election year,” Brewer said.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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State Sen. Tom Brewer and John R. Lott Jr. write: "Much will remain unchanged with constitutional carry. Businesses and private property owners still have the right to exclude guns from their premises. Prohibitions remain in sensitive places, and laws about gun misuse are unchanged. Nebraskans must still be able to legally own a gun to carry it."

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