Legislature opens debate on permitless concealed carry bill

March 1, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Tom Brewer discusses gun legislation Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Tom Brewer, center, discusses gun legislation Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Whether or not Nebraskans should be allowed to carry concealed guns without a permit was the focus of debate Wednesday at the Capitol.

As he has done several times before, Sen. Tom Brewer introduced so-called “constitutional carry” legislation, to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without the permit that’s currently required. Brewer said the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutional right like free speech. But unlike free speech, exercising it costs money.

“In order to have that right to keep and bear arms, you're going to have to pay $100 to $200 for a class. You're going to have to go to State Patrol office, got to pay them $100. And then you're going to have to wait for months to get the permit back. Colleagues, a person in Nebraska should not have to pay money to the government in order to exercise a constitutional right,” Brewer said.

The bill would do away with the requirement for training. For that reason, Sen. George Dungan said he opposes the proposal.

“I'm not opposed to the Second Amendment, and I absolutely believe in the responsible possession of firearms. When I was running for office and knocking on doors one thing I heard consistently, however… from firearm owners, was that they were frankly appalled and shocked by the idea that somebody could possess firearms and concealed carry them without proper training,” Dungan said.

Sen. Joni Albrecht, supporting the bill, tried to allay other concerns people have expressed.

“It will not allow felons perpetrators of domestic violence, those with dangerous mental illness, or other prohibited persons to carry weapons. It would not change the list of locations where concealed handguns are permitted. It would not stop businesses from prohibiting weapons on their premises. It would not change background check requirements for obtaining a handgun,” Albrecht said.

Twenty-five states now allow permitless concealed carry, including all of Nebraska’s neighbors except Colorado. Sen. Julie Slama, who supports the bill, mocked critics who suggest the bill would increase gun violence.

“We haven't heard a thing about any of those states turning into the Wild West. I know I have three states that neighbor my district. I think I would have heard the duels and gunfire in the in the streets, I think, across the river from my house,” she said.

Slama’s district borders on Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.

Sen. Jane Raybould, opposing the bill, talked about problems associated with guns.

“Gun deaths are the leading cause of death in our children. It's a time where more than half of the suicides are committed with a firearm, where we are seeing more suicide deaths in our rural communities right here in the state of Nebraska, and not in the urban areas. Are people becoming indifferent to the loss of innocent lives and children? Are we just numb?” Raybould asked.

Raybould cited incidents including when a gunman killed eight people in. 2007 at a Von Maur store in Omaha. She also mentioned that just last week, a fifth-grader brought a loaded gun to an elementary school in Lincoln.

Slama responded by asking for data, not anecdotes. Dungan obliged.

“Recent studies generally speaking have concluded that right to carry laws are associated with double digit increases in homicides and violent crime. A 2022 study found that right to carry laws increased firearm homicides by 13% and firearm violent crimes by 29%,” he said.

That study was by the National Bureau of Economic Research. On the other hand, a study by the Manhattan Institute said the results of studies comparing states that have adopted similar laws with those that have not, are inconclusive.

Wednesday’s discussion was the first round of debate on the bill, using up three of the eight hours before supporters can try to cut off debate and vote. Opponents are likely to use another three hours Thursday, leading Speaker John Arch to predict a vote Friday morning.

Wednesday afternoon, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard several proposals on how to implement the requirement for having a photo ID to vote – a measure approved by the electorate last year. The first item senators discussed was what should qualify as a valid ID. Sen. Jen Day listed examples of forms of ID that would be accepted under her bill, including driver's licenses, learner's permits, state ID cards, school-issued student IDs, IDs from other states, military identification cards, tribal ID cards, passports, “and other lawful forms of identification commonly accepted in other states with voter ID laws.

“Importantly, this bill would accept all these IDs whether or not they are expired. If the goal of voter ID policy is to verify a person's identity election workers can do that successfully even while using an expired ID,” Day said.

Sen. Steve Erdman offered a much shorter list of acceptable IDs in his bill, including a driver's license, a state identification card, a voter identification card, a United States passport, and a tribal identification card.

Erdman’s bill would also accept expired IDs, but only if they had been expired for less than 60 days.

Sen. Brewer, chair of the committee, noted that the committee has now heard three different proposals, and will probably “mix and match” elements from each when it decides what to advance.

“Don't think that this is the end all, be all, and that's what it'll be. These are to be modified and changed so that we have a proper product at the right time,” he said.

Brewer added that whatever the committee proposes will then be subject to extensive debate by the full Legislature.