Committee advances permitless concealed carry bill, but some want amendments

LINCOLN — Lawmakers on Friday set up a resumption of the hot-button debate over allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed handguns without a background check, training or a state permit.

On a 5-0 vote, with two senators not present and one “present but not voting,” the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced Legislative Bill 77.

State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon renewed his effort this year to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a state permit or training. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The measure, a longtime goal of State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would authorize the carrying of a concealed handgun without purchasing a $100 state permit, undergoing a criminal background check or passing a gun safety course.

25 states allow it

At least 25 other states have passed similar bills, which supporters call “constitutional carry,” and Brewer has maintained that Nebraskans shouldn’t have to pay or go through other hoops to exercise a constitutional right to bear arms.

He has 25 cosponsors for LB 77 and has already made it his personal priority bill, which gives it priority in being debated by the full Legislature sooner. The conservative shift in the Unicameral, some observers believe, gives the measure a better chance of passage this year. It fell two votes short in 2022 of fending off a filibuster and advancing.

Brewer has portrayed this year’s bill as “cleaner” and lacking amendments that had been added last year to earn support of law enforcement officials in Omaha and Lincoln.

Omaha, Lincoln police chiefs opposed

Police chiefs inboth Omaha and Lincoln, as well as gun control groups, have opposed LB 77, calling it dangerous and contrary to efforts to reduce violent crime. Others testified that the founding fathers didn’t envision the kind of semi-automatic weapons of today when they wrote the 2nd Amendment.

The chiefs also objected to a clause in the bill that would nullify gun control ordinances in Omaha and Lincoln.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he voted to advance the bill to retain some leverage in seeking amendments to the bill.

Brewer had threatened to “pull” the bill from the Judiciary Committee — which requires 25 votes — if it wasn’t advanced from the committee by Wednesday.

Wayne said that by advancing the bill, he retains some leverage in seeking changes. For instance, he said he wants tougher penalties in the bill for gun owners who fail to inform a law enforcement officer when they are pulled over for a traffic stop that they are carrying a concealed weapon.

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

That “duty to inform” is a current requirement of those who are legally carrying concealed guns.

Wayne said he also wants some high-level misdemeanors, such as those involving domestic violence, to generate a felony charge if someone used a concealed handgun in the commission of the offense.

Nearly 90,000 permits issued

As of the beginning of the year, 89,622 Nebraskans have obtained state concealed carry permits.

Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer was present and not voting on advancing LB 77.  Sens. Carol Blood of Bellevue and Suzanne Geist of Lincoln had excused absences.

Blood was caring for a family member in the hospital Friday morning, and Geist was at a meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Board when the Judiciary Committee voted on the gun bill.

Geist, who is seeking election as mayor of Lincoln, said she supports the concept of permitless concealed carry but has concerns about the current form of LB 77.

One concern, she said, was ensuring that “prohibited persons,” such as felons, minors (other than those in the military) and those adjudicated as mentally ill, receive stiff penalties if they are caught carrying a concealed weapon.

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