LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska lawmaker is taking another shot at trying to pass a bill that would not only allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit, it would prohibit the state's cities and counties from issuing local laws to do so within their borders.
Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, defended the bill in a hearing before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that drew more than 100 people both for and against it. Brewer brought with him a state attorney general's opinion that determined such a law would need to be implemented statewide.
“You can either follow the Constitution, or you can have carve-outs. But you can't do both,” said Brewer, a combat veteran who was shot several times during a firefight with the Taliban in 2003. Given his harried combat experience, he said, “I understand the significance of what I'm asking for here."
Brewer has introduced the measure every year since 2017. This year, his proposal has 25 cosponsors and is again listed as his priority bill, increasing the odds that lawmakers will debate it on the Senate floor.
According to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, permit-less concealed carry is already allowed in 25 conservative-leaning states, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Wyoming — five of the six states that border Nebraska.
Nebraska already allows gun owners to carry firearms in public view, as long as they don’t have a criminal record that bars them from possessing one and aren’t in a place where guns are prohibited. To legally conceal the gun, Nebraskans are required to submit to a Nebraska State Patrol background check, get fingerprinted and take a gun safety course at their own expense.
The bill is championed by gun rights advocates who call it “constitutional carry,” in reference to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Opponents argue that allowing people to carry handguns without registering with law enforcement is a threat to public safety.
More than a dozen people testified in favor of the bill, and the group included some unexpected backers, such as attorney Spike Eickholt, who represented the Nebraska Criminal Defense Association. That group, Eickholt said, finds those in the state's largest cities of Omaha and Lincoln — particularly minority populations — are disproportionately targeted by police over concealed carry laws. Others also testified that the $100 cost of a conceal carry permit that must be renewed every five years discriminates against poor residents.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer was among those who testified against the bill, noting that the city's gang violence and its population of about 500,000 would make permit-less concealed carry a dangerous proposition in the city.
“I completely understand why they don’t need it in small towns. In Omaha, we have that need," Schmaderer said. “It plays a role in how we address violent crime."
Brewer's attempt to pass a nearly identical bill last year won initial approval but stalled on the second of three required votes in the waning days of the legislative session over objections to the proposal's elimination of mandatory training to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Brewer declined to include the required training feature again this year, saying Tuesday that while he believes in the importance of gun safety training, “it should not be mandatory.”
Last year, Brewer's bill fell two votes short of the 33-vote supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster. The one-chamber Legislature is officially nonpartisan, but 17 of the state's 49 lawmakers this year are registered Democrats. If all of them oppose the measure, it would leave bill supporters at least one vote short of being filibuster-proof.
Such gun bills have triggered disconcerting reactions in the State Capitol before. In 2020, some gun-rights activists protesting a measure that would have imposed new restrictions on gun ownerships showed up carrying loaded semi-automatic rifles, which they are legally allowed to carry inside the Capitol.
Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who described being in a hearing room with armed people as “terrifying," has introduced a bill to prohibit possession of deadly weapons in the State Capitol or on State Capitol grounds. That bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, but it had not been assigned a hearing as of Thursday.