Bills for State Not to Enforce Some Federal Gun Laws, Earlier Felon Voting Get Hearings

Feb. 24, 2021, 5:55 p.m. ·

Sen. Steve Halloran discusses gun laws Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A proposal prohibiting enforcement of federal gun regulations that are not in state law drew emotional testimony in a public hearing Wednesday. And lawmakers considered proposals to let people convicted of felonies vote immediately after finishing their sentences.

Sen. Steve Halloran introduced the proposal to prohibit Nebraska from enforcing any federal gun regulations not contained in state law. Many people who showed up to support the proposal said they were concerned that the President Joe Biden’s administration will try to restrict their Second Amendment rights. Among them was Kyle Pancake.

“As we see the gun control wish list the Biden administration desires, we can see a blatant disregard for the Constitution, and for the average law-abiding gun owner like myself. As our rights continue to be squeezed away by an overzealous and bloated government, many patriots like myself stop to wonder what the next option is, what can we do. As options continue to fade, I fear that many will see violence as the only option,” Pancake said.

During his campaign, Biden endorsed proposals including banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and banning online gun sales.

On hand to support Halloran’s proposal was Denise Bradshaw of Omaha. She said she was out walking her dog near Crossroads Mall last May when a friend got a call that there was a riot taking place. Bradshaw said a car then drove past, a young man got out and started taking pictures of residents and their dwellings, which scared her.

“I called 9-1-1. I could not get through. I called again and the 9-1-1 person instructed me unless this was an immediate attack and threat on my physical person, to call back. At that exact moment, I knew what it was like to have no police protection. To be on your own. At that exact moment, I fully understood for the first time in my life, how truly important the Second Amendment was,” Bradshaw said.

And Michael Tiedeman called the bill necessary to end the erosion of Second Amendment rights.

“The Second Amendment was not written for hunting, collecting or sport shooting. It was written with only one purpose: to provide the citizens a last line of defense against tyrannical government, whether it be foreign, or domestic,” Tiedeman said.

The only person testifying against the bill was Judy King on behalf of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. King said the legislation had its roots in pro-President Donald Trump groups that attacked the U.S. Capitol January 6.

“My concern is that your gun groups are hoping to attack our country again, and that you are trying to make it easy for them. And we would like you to know that we are watching and we will protect our country from fascists and the party of Trump – formerly the GOP – voters that have been told the big lie,” King told senators.

Katie Townley of the Nebraska Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also submitted written testimony against the bill, which Townley said would tie the hands of Nebraska law enforcement and prevent them from stopping criminals and preventing gun violence.

Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee that held the hearing, said letters of support outnumbered those of opposition by 238-3.

Answering questions at the end of the hearing, Halloran said his bill wouldn’t seek to override federal gun laws. Sen. Matt Hansen asked what, specifically, his bill is intended to prevent.

“The action that this bill would stop would be…if there was, in fact, an executive order to confiscate certain types of firearms, certain types of ammunition, certain types of accessories. This law would preempt local law enforcement officials from being conscripted by federal authorities to enforce that law. (It) doesn’t mean the law couldn’t be enforced, but the federal government would have to enforce it,” Halloran said.

Also Wednesday, lawmakers heard a proposal to let people convicted of felonies vote immediately after finishing their sentences, instead of having to wait two years, which is the current law. Sen. Justin Wayne is the sponsor of the bill.

“This bill is not about excusing a crime. You are convicted, you do your time, you come out, you should be able to participate. These same individuals are paying taxes those two years. They’re working. And they have no say with their local government on how to and what to do. That’s why it’s arbitrary,” Wayne said.

Shayna Bartow, a law student, supported the proposal as timely.

“In 2021 after a year of unprecedented calls for racial justice, and a tyrannical takeover of our federal Capitol by white supremacists, it is crucial that Nebraska leaders explicitly acknowledge that our current law barring those convicted of felonies from voting for two years perpetuates systemic racism,” Bartow said.

Wayne said the history of disqualifying felons from voting dates from the period after the Civil War, when states stepped up convictions of Black men and enforced such laws to disenfranchise them. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said racial disparities continue in the justice system, with Blacks making up 4.6 percent of Nebraska’s population, but 26.9 percent of the state’s prison population.

Cavanaugh proposed a state constitutional amendment to remove felony convictions as a reason to keep someone from voting. She said having that in the constitution doesn’t deter crime.

“I would challenge you to find someone who is incarcerated who stopped before committing a crime and thought ‘If I do this, I won’t get to vote for president.’ That’s not how that works. So disenfranchisement isn’t a deterrent from crime. It isn’t related to crime. It’s something that we do to marginalize the population of people who are incarcerated,” Cavanaugh said.

No one at the hearing testified against the proposals. But a number of people sent in written opposition, including Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who predicted Cavanaugh’s constitutional amendment would mean polling places in prisons, violent criminals able to vote, and any senator with a prison in their district having an instant constituency of imprisoned felons. “What policies would they press upon their state senator to advance?” Evnen asked in his written testimony.

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee took no immediate action on any of the proposals.