Proposal would make owners liable for guns left available to youth, mentally incompetent

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January 10, 2013 - 3:53pm

A proposal to hold gun owners responsible if they leave weapons where children or mentally incompetent people can take them was among more than 100 bills introduced in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the gun responsibility bill. Ashford said he did so after talking to gun dealers and sportsmen’s groups. He said one of their big concerns was if they sell weapons to legitimate buyers, they can’t police what’s done with them. "These people, these businesspeople and sportsmen said, ‘We would support legislation that held at least the gun owner responsible for -- civilly for -- laying the gun around the house and keeping it unlocked or accessible to children or to someone who has mental illness,’" Ashford said.

Ashford has introduced similar legislation before. In 2008, after a gunman killed eight victims and himself at a Von Maur store in Omaha, he proposed making it a crime for gun owners not to report a lost or stolen firearm, along with requiring gun sellers to include trigger locks or gun locks with every sale.

The bill died following opposition from the National Rifle Association and others. Ashford said the recent school shooting in Connecticut might increase the chances for this year’s proposal.

Also on Thursday, Attorney General Jon Bruning said he would not be proposing any gun control legislation. "To me it’s not the gun that is the problem. It’s the mentally ill individual that wields the gun. And if it wasn’t a gun the mentally ill individual would, in my mind, be able to wield a knife or a car or any other agent of destruction. To me, that’s not the issue," Bruning said.

However, he added "I’m very sensitive to how there are strong feelings on all sides of this. And we do need to figure out a way to make sure mentally ill people aren’t able to create that kind of destruction."

Bruning did endorse a package of four other bills: separating penalties for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, requiring companies to report data security breaches to the state, stiffening penalties for trying to disarm a police officer, and prohibiting state investment in companies doing business with Iran.

Bruning also said he’s not going to run for governor next year.

Other proposals introduced Thursday include exempting or reducing taxes on military retirement, Social Security, renewable energy construction, ag land and ag repair parts.

There were also constitutional amendments proposed to require a supermajority of 29 senators to approve new or increased taxes, and to reduce the minimum age for election to the Legislature from 21 to the federal voting age, which is currently 18.

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