Statewide uniformity, local control debated on guns

Nebraska's Capitol behind a swirl of snow (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 25, 2016 - 5:34pm

Should cities like Omaha and Lincoln be able to regulate guns, or should that job be left to the state? That’s the question being debated in the Nebraska Legislature.

Last year, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill calling for uniform regulation of guns by state law. The proposal was sponsored by Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, who said Nebraskans from rural parts of the state that don’t regulate guns shouldn’t have to worry about violating local laws if they pass through communities that do have regulations. Now, some of the same members of the Judiciary Committee who voted to advance the bill last year are supporting a move to send it back to committee. Among them is Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld.

Ebke asked him why he changed his mind. "We were not aware that it would preempt all city ordinances, and take away, for instance, Omaha’s gun registration ordinance: an ordinance in Lincoln that prevents guns from being in domestic violence shelters; an ordinance that prevents violent sex offenders and other folks from from also having guns for more than 10 years," Morfeld said.

The move to send a bill back to committee for more work is technically called a "recommit." Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, who supports the bill, said sending it back is a wrong move. "Instead of trying to recommit this to committee, why don’t we recommit ourselves to our state constitution? Why don’t we recommit ourselves to upholding our national constitution? Why don’t we recommit ourselves to our own oath of office? Why don’t we recommit ourselves to the rights of the citizens our great state?" Kinner asked.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello said murders in Omaha have reached a point not seen for almost 50 years, and worried passing the bill in its current form would make things worse. Mello said he thinks the committee could revise the proposal to take away people’s worries about being caught in a web of conflicting local laws. "If there’s the issue of intrastate transportation of firearms between a community like North Platte that doesn’t have a handgun registration ordinance, and they’re coming through the city of Omaha or Lincoln where the city does have one…we can craft a bill to protect that responsible gun owner," Mello said.

But North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, supporting the bill in its current form, said Omaha’s problem with gun violence isn’t being stopped by the city’s gun registration requirement. "It doesn’t stop a crime. It just puts Big Brother in charge of things that you have a constitutional right to own. You don’t have to defend why you own it. You have a right to, for self-protection; for whatever reason you think you need it. It’s freedom," Groene said.

As debate ended for the day, Morfeld said he was working on an amendment to protect people who transport guns through cities, and Mello was working on one to exempt Lincoln and Omaha from the bill. If no compromise is reached, it could be Wednesday morning before supporters of the bill can request a vote to shut off debate and vote on the proposal itself.

Meanwhile on another subject, Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins claimed he is picking up support for his new version of a longstanding proposal to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement. This year’s version, in addition to repealing the requirement, would create a trust fund to treat people who suffer brain injuries. An increased risk of brain injuries has been one of the main arguments of opponents of repealing the helmet requirement. The trust would be funded by increasing motorcycle registration fees from the current $6 up to $25, which Bloomfield estimates could raise about $1 million dollars a year. Last year, he came up nine senators short of an attempt to break a filibuster against the bill. But he said two more senators have now told him they support repeal.

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