LINCOLN — After day-long debate Thursday over whether or not the 2nd Amendment entitles Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons, it remained uncertain whether a “constitutional carry” bill had the support to advance.
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who has worked for six years to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a state permit or criminal background check, said he still wasn’t sure if he had the 33 votes to invoke cloture and advance his proposal.
State lawmakers have another 90 minutes to debate Legislative Bill 773 on Friday before a cloture vote — to halt a filibuster — could be held.
Needs 33 votes
In the 49-member Unicameral Legislature, it takes 25 votes normally to advance or pass a bill. But it has become the norm on controversial issues, such as tax bills and gun rights legislation, to require 33 votes to defeat a filibuster and move a bill forward.
Much of the debate Thursday dealt with whether the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — specifically, the clause that grants the right to “keep and bear arms” — also means that citizens should not face “barriers” in carrying a concealed weapon.
To carry a concealed handgun in Nebraska, residents ages 21 and over must:
- Obtain a $100 state concealed handgun permit.
- Undergo a criminal background check to ensure they’re not barred from carrying a gun because of a conviction for a felony or other serious offense.
- Pass a certified gun-safety training course.
“This is for law-abiding citizens so they don’t have to jump through hoops” to carry a concealed weapon, Brewer told his colleagues Thursday.
Passed in 21 states
Twenty-one states — including the bordering states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Wyoming — currently allow “constitutional carry,” so called out of the belief that the Constitution already permits it. In four other states, Brewer said, laws have been passed and await approval by the governor.
Opponents of LB 773, led by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, himself a concealed carry license holder, argued that constitutional rights are not absolute rights. He and others said that requiring people to pass a safety course and background check were reasonable measures before being permitted to carry a concealed, deadly weapon.
He cited a 2008 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld reasonable regulation and prohibitions to the right to bear arms.
Rights are limited
“The first thing they tell you in constitutional law (class) is that rights are not unlimited,” said Morfeld, who is an attorney.
Currently, Nebraska law allows people to openly carry firearms in locations where they aren’t barred. Reportedly, one person was wearing a sidearm Thursday at the State Capitol.
State law also provides an “affirmative defense” to someone who carries a concealed weapon without a state permit. They must prove that they had a legitimate reason to do so because of their business or for self-protection. But that would require a person to go to court to prove that, and gun rights advocates say that places a restriction on their rights.
On Friday, lawmakers are expected to debate an amendment Brewer drafted that has flipped the Omaha Police Officers Association from opposing LB 773 to being neutral.
The amendment would leave in place Omaha’s handgun registration ordinance, but there would be fewer reasons to reject a permit. The amendment would also allow prosecutions for the crime of “carrying a concealed handgun” if a concealed gun was used in a long list of “covered offenses,” from robbery and kidnapping to cockfighting and some drug offenses.
The Police Officers Association had testified against LB 773 earlier this year, saying that as originally drafted, it limited prosecution and penalties against criminals who shouldn’t have guns. The Lincoln police and a state police chiefs’ association remain opposed to the bill.
Sen. Terrell McKinney, who represents North Omaha, said he has become an opponent of LB 773 because of the amendment that was worked out with the Omaha police. He said Omaha police “target” the African-American residents of his district, which has resulted in a prison incarceration rate in his district that is 10th highest in the nation.
The proposed amendment, McKinney said, “still allows the Omaha police to discriminate.”
‘Pilot program over’
Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood argued that legislators thought the “sky would fall” when the state passed its concealed carry law in 2006, but that hasn’t happened. Allowing concealed carry without a permit is not that big of a change, he said.
“The pilot program is over,” Flood said.
But opponents to LB 773 said it is in the state’s interest to ensure that those carrying concealed handguns know how to handle them safely and aren’t convicted criminals.
“I don’t want to pass laws that make our communities or our kids less safe,” said Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha.
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