Controversy continues over carrying guns in Nebraska Capitol

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh speaks in the Legislature Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 24, 2020 - 6:13pm

There was more controversy Monday over some gun rights advocates openly carrying firearms in the Capitol during a hearing Friday on gun control proposals.

The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Friday on two gun bills. One, by Sen. John McCollister, would require gun dealers supply buyers with information on suicide prevention, and be present to facilitate background checks at gun shows. The other, by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would deny guns to people who were convicted of domestic violence or had protection orders against them.

Hundreds of gun rights supporters showed up to oppose the bills. Carrying concealed weapons in the Capitol is illegal, but it is legal to carry them openly. NET News is aware of two people that were openly carrying, a number that a State Patrol spokesman said was consistent with what he has heard.

Cavanaugh said people carrying guns in the Capitol is intimidating.

“Allowing weapons in this building, especially into committee rooms, suppresses the voices of those who stand in opposition to the gun holders. It was clearly the intent to intimidate this body. I won't assume to speak for others in this legislature, but for myself, I was intimidated. I was scared. I was worried about how someone might react to my bill. And what I had to say might trigger a dangerous reaction. I was worried about getting home to my children,” Cavanaugh said.

Sen. Tom Brewer said people were exercising their rights.

“Now I understand some people are afraid of guns. And I openly said I didn't think there was a need for anyone to bring a gun into this building. But it is their right to do that,” Brewer said.

Brewer said senators in Nebraska’s one-house Legislature need to listen to the people, sometimes called “the second house.”

“Friday: For some, they looked at that as a traumatic event for them. For others of us, we saw an opportunity for the second house to speak. The dilemma I'm in now is that we decided that we would only give them a minute and a half,” he said.

Brewer was referring to the 90 seconds each testifier was allowed to speak. Sen. Steve Lathrop, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he set that limit so everyone who wanted to speak could.

“I have what I call my ‘Scottsbluff rule.’ I assume that everybody that wants to testify is coming from Scottsbluff,” about 400 miles from Lincoln. “I can only imagine if you appeared in the Judiciary Committee room, and the chair said, ‘We're done taking testimony,’ and you came all the way from Scottsbluff, you wouldn't be very happy with the legislative process. I made a decision to cut the time in half. And I explained it to those who were there. It had nothing to do with how I regard the topic.”

Lathrop said if everybody who wanted to speak had been allowed three minutes, the hearing would have lasted past midnight. Brewer said that’s what should have happened.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said she, too, had felt intimidated by having people carrying guns in the Capitol.

“I too was very concerned about that hearing. I did not feel comfortable asking a question, and you know how hard that is for me not to ask a question on things,” Pansing Brooks said.

Pansing Brooks said she agrees people need to be allowed to speak, but within certain rules.

“That is our priority, that we hear from the second house, no matter what they're saying. Now, I don't want to hear from them in a threatening manner. And that's another discussion. But I do want to hear from the second house as long as they don't appear to be threatening me and causing me to silence my questions, because of the way that they come forward and the attitude that I perceived,” she said.

Cavanaugh said she hadn’t been told beforehand that people would be carrying guns in the Capitol. She asked Sen. Mike Hilgers, chair of the Legislature’s internal governing Executive Board, about that.

Hilgers said he notified the State Patrol and members of the Judiciary Committee who expressed concern, but said they could consider handling it differently in the future.

“This is a new situation none of us have encountered before, and so communicating that to the body is something that we’ll take into account,” Hilgers said.

Lathrop has said lawmakers need to have a conversation about whether Nebraska should continue to allow guns to be carried openly in the Capitol. But Brewer, referring to Friday’s turnout, urged caution.

“Now if you want to write rules and prohibit that, have at it, but understand that that 400 can turn into 800 pretty quick, because this is an issue people will stand their ground on. They know that once they lose their Second Amendment, they lose the First  Amendment,” he said.

No senator has named the gun control bills heard Friday a priority bill, making it unlikely they’ll be acted on this year.














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