Legislature passes permitless concealed carry

April 19, 2023, midnight ·

Sen. Tom Brewer, right, answers a question from Sen. George Dungan, left (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Sen. Tom Brewer, right, answers a question from Sen. George Dungan, left (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

Listen To This Story

The Legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a bill allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

It was a day that’s been a long time in the making for the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Tom Brewer. But as debate began, a leading opponent, Sen. Jane Raybould, spoke in favor of sending the bill back to committee for more work. Raybould referred to recent acts of gun violence, including the shooting of a 16-year old in Kansas City who knocked on the wrong door when he went to pick up his siblings.

“We are a nation held in the grips of senseless gun violence. This stops today, when we vote this lawless concealed carry down. Not our state, not our children, not our officers. Please stand with me and other law- abiding, responsible gun owners for common sense gun safety. Please, please vote ‘no’ on LB77,” Raybould said.

Brewer, awarded two Purple Hearts after being wounded while serving in Afghanistan, said he would not give up fighting for his bill.

“It's not something, like, I'm going to -- I'm going to walk away from. That how much I believe in it. That’s how much I believe in the Constitution. And you guys can say what you want about being too committed to the Constitution. But there are some of us that are paid a very dear price for that Constitution. So if we seem committed, it’s for a reason,” Brewer said.

Sen. John Cavanaugh, opposing the bill, said it would reduce the penalty for someone previously convicted of a felony to possess a gun. He said it could go from the current three year minimum sentence to a maximum of one year.

Sen. Mike Jacobson, supporting the bill, downplayed such concerns.

“I'm amazed -- truly amazed -- at all of the new, unique nuances that come up every year. ‘If we could just send it back to committee and spend one more year thinking about it, it'll fix everything. Let's forget about people's constitutional rights. Let's hold it off for another year so we can study it a little more,’’ Jacobson said, parodying opponents’ sentiments.

Brewer himself dismissed opponents’ concerns that language in the bill would allow people to carry weapons other than handguns into prohibited places.

“Now you've heard the rambling about ‘Well, you could be carrying a bazooka or a handful of brass knuckles.’ Again, this is just a way to confuse the issue and try and figure out a way to kill the bill. There are those who do not want to openly, publicly admit that they hate the Second Amendment and would like to do away with it. So they do it through tactics like this,” he said.

Sen. John Fredrickson, who represents an Omaha district, said the bill would be bad for that city.

“Is it possible that LB77 makes sense in more rural parts of the state? Sure. You know, I'm not sure I can say it doesn't make sense there. What I do feel pretty strongly about is that this does not make sense in Omaha,” Fredrickson said.

Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, who represents a largely rural district, said people there largely support the bill.

“Since this bill was introduced, I have heard from law enforcement officers, sheriffs and a chief of police in my district who have been absolutely behind these efforts to expand and protect our Second Amendment rights here in Nebraska. I've not heard from a single law enforcement officer, police chief or sheriff in my district who has any reservations about this bill, and I've heard from a lot of constituents in my district, probably 95% of whom are completely in favor of LB77,” Briese said.

After two hours, Brewer moved to cut off debate and vote on the bill. He prevailed on both that cloture motion and the bill itself, which passed, 33-14. From the balcony, where a group of opponents of the bill were sitting, a woman shouted “Shame!” and was escorted out.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Pillen. A spokesman for Pillen confirmed that he intends to sign the bill into law.

Also Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Rob Jeffreys, Pillen’s selection to head the Department of Correctional Services. Jeffreys, who’s been on the job only three days, said he could not talk in detail about changes he’d like to make in the prison system.

Sen. Terrell McKinney challenged him about supporting building a new prison to replace the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

“In some of your responses, you were like ‘I hadn't been here long enough to really give a full answer.’ And I'm hitting at that because, in the same token you haven't been here long enough, but you still are cool with going forward with the prison. But we also have to be cool with policy changes going forward as well. Because we can't wait,” McKinney said.

Jeffreys said both a new prison and policy changes, like programs to help inmates prepare for release, are needed.

“You hit the nail on the head. We have to move forward building the prison, and we have to move forward with policy changes where it can be. I know that I have to address those concerns that I have that I consider controllables, like things that I can do with an agency to address the population. But we can only do that if I have the space to achieve those programming components, which is not currently there at the current facility,” Jeffreys said.

One major policy change that the Legislature has debated in recent years is sentencing reform. In a brief interview, Jeffreys clarified he was not talking about involving himself in that debate.

Wednesday afternoon, Chairman Justin Wayne said the committee voted 7-0 to recommend the full Legislature confirm Jeffreys’ appointment.