LINCOLN–(Associated Press Apr. 19)–Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to allow people to carry concealed guns in the state without a permit, just as national attention has ramped up over gun violence in the wake of several mass shootings, including the killing last month of six people at a Tennessee school.
Despite opponents filibustering the bill for 14 hours over three rounds of debate this session, lawmakers voted 33-14 to pass the so-called constitutional carry bill.
The bill does not usurp the federal requirement for a background check to buy a gun, and those with a history of crime or mental health issues that bar them from possessing a gun would still be barred under the Nebraska bill. But it allows eligible people to carry guns hidden in their clothing or vehicle without having to pay for a government permit or take a gun safety course, which is currently required. It also overrides stricter gun laws in the state’s cities, including in the state’s largest city of Omaha, which requires a conceal carry license for anyone carrying a gun in a car — even if the gun is in open view.
The bill was opposed by the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, where the majority of gun violence occurs, and their police chiefs, who have said the measure will make their cities less safe.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon — the bill’s conservative sponsor who has tried since 2017 to pass it — expressed frustration with the yearslong opposition to it and said his sole purpose was to ensure Nebraskans are afforded their constitutional right to carry guns.
But Brewer, an Army combat veteran who was shot several times during a firefight with the Taliban in 2003, also said he understood that the subject of gun regulation “is not an easy thing.”
“If you’re on the receiving end of a bullet, … you understand how that can change and impact lives,” he said.
The lawmaker most vocal in her opposition to the bill has been Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould, who pleaded with lawmakers to block the measure. She noted Wednesday that Thursday will be the 24th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting in Colorado that killed 13.
“We talk about gun rights,” Raybould said. “What about the rights of all those adults and children gunned down?”
The bill’s passage drew an emotional response from gun control advocates who filled the north balcony of the legislative chamber for Wednesday’s final debate. One woman stood and yelled “Shame!” several times at lawmakers until she was escorted out by security.
The public debate on guns in America has run hot since the March 24 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, in which three 9-year-old students and three adults were killed. But such high-profile shootings seem to only enhance the nation’s political polarization on guns.
Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, has said he will sign the Nebraska measure into law. Once he does, Nebraska will become the 26th state to allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit. North Dakota allows concealed carry of a gun only by eligible North Dakota residents within that state’s boundaries.
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 — including churches, courthouses and private businesses — where guns are prohibited. Currently, to legally conceal a gun, Nebraska residents are required to submit to a Nebraska State Patrol background check, get fingerprinted and take a gun safety course at their own expense.