Nebraska lawmakers have gun bill options but action unlikely

March 11, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — As politicians across the country debate how to respond to gun-related violence following a Florida school shooting, Nebraska legislators acknowledge that despite nearly 20 bills they could consider dealing with firearms, they’re unlikely to take action on most of the proposals this session.

There are 19 bills eligible for debate this session, ranging from a ban on so-called bump stocks that increase a weapon’s firing speed to increased fees on handgun applications and restrictions on local gun ordinances. However, few of the bills were given a priority designation, meaning most will die at the end of the session.

“If you walk into the chamber as a senator, the advocacy has to go. It has to leave your mind,” Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said. “The Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal has to leave your mind. You have to say ‘I am a statesman or a stateswoman. How do I balance things to do what’s best for the state?’ But too many times across the nation, I think it’s too hard for people to leave that at the door.”

Although most gun bills have stalled in Nebraska, other states are considering firearms legislation, including setting stricter requirements for background checks and boosting age limits.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott last week signed a bill raising the minimum age to buy rifles, extending waiting periods to long gun purchases and enabling some school employees to carry guns. Legislators in Oregon approved a bill prohibiting people convicted of domestic abuse or with restraining orders against them from owning firearms, and the measure was signed by Gov. Kate Brown.

Other states are considering proposals to reduce limits on carrying guns in locations such as schools and churches.

One gun-related bill that has been approved in Nebraska and signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts increases the evidence needed before a mental health board can restore a person’s ability to purchase firearms or apply for conceal and carry permits.

But Wayne said lawmakers have largely avoided gun legislation, in part because the topic is so emotionally charged.

“If you live in an urban city, you know somebody who has been affected by gun violence and that’s emotional,” he said. “And if you don’t live in an urban environment and you’re a hunter and that’s something you grew up on, that’s emotional.”

Wayne introduced legislation that would restrict violent juvenile offenders from purchasing firearms until they are 25. A judiciary committee advanced the bill last week, and Wayne said he expects the floor debate on the bill will be “the first time in a long time we are going to have a debate about gun violence and how to propose common-sense solutions to the issue.”

Motivated by the Parkland, Florida, deaths and previous mass shootings, high school and college students in Nebraska have increased efforts to expand gun restrictions.

Isabel Boussin, a junior at Lincoln East High School, is organizing a march April 20, to commemorate the shooting that happened on that date in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado. The local march will be one of many around the nation on that day, she said.

After several threats to Nebraska schools in the wake of the Florida shooting, Boussin said some students no longer feel safe.

“It’s honestly really terrifying to walk into schools some days,” she said.

Two members of the Lincoln City Council have proposed an ordinance that would ban the sale or ownership of bump stocks within city limits. A public hearing and vote are expected later in March.

Proposed legislation from Sen. Mike Hilgers, of Lincoln, would eliminate the ability for cities to create their own firearms regulations, a move that would outlaw that action being considered in Lincoln. However, the bill is not expected to be debated this session.

A 2016 report from the Legislative Research Office estimated that firearms were present in 39 percent of Nebraska homes, and there were more than 43,000 conceal and carry permits issued to residents.

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