Legislature rejects banning guns from Capitol

Jan. 19, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, foreground, listens as Senator Julie Slama, background, speaks Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, foreground, listens as Senator Julie Slama, background, speaks Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Nebraska lawmakers rejected a proposal Thursday to ban guns from the Capitol, while putting off deciding on other major rules changes.

Concealed guns are prohibited in Nebraska’s Capitol building, but openly carried guns are not, a situation Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh wants changed.

This month, Cavanaugh proposed a rules change that would have banned guns from legislative spaces in the Capitol, but the Rules Committee didn’t support the change. So Thursday, when the rules were being debated, Cavanaugh brought it up again.

Sen. Jane Raybould supported the proposal. Raybould talked about how customers at her family’s grocery stores complain when someone’s carrying a gun.

“Families with young children, as they shop in our grocery stores, are very, very concerned. They see individuals come into our stores. And they're not certain if these are part of our security detail, but they see the weapon, and they say that they leave their grocery cart where it is and they run out, because they're concerned that this could be another mass shooting,” Raybould said.

Sen. Tom Brewer objected to Cavanaugh’s proposed rules change. He predicted gun rights supporters will pack the Capitol next week for a hearing on his proposal to let Nebraskans carry concealed weapons without a permit. He accused Cavanaugh of trying to undermine people’s Second Amendment rights.

“What you want to do now is say, ‘You know what? We're not going to take away your right to vote or speak. But what we're going to do is take away your right to keep and bear arms.’ Now you can flag that however you want. But that's the bottom line, what you want to do here. And the second house will let you know next week how they feel about this.

Brewer also suggested Cavanaugh’s proposal to let only law enforcement and military personnel carry guns in the Capitol was impractical and expensive.

“We got State Patrol here, but we got them here in very few numbers and not very many places. Now I'm sure if we want to quadruple the budget of the State Patrol they'll go ahead and fill state troopers through the hallways here, but that ain't the right answer,” he said.

And Sen. John Lowe praised the status quo.

“In the state of Nebraska you are allowed to carry open carry. In the Capitol you are allowed to carry open carry. We have a great state
here,” Lowe said.

Cavanaugh closed by asking her fellow senators to support the rules change.

“Colleagues, I just would encourage you to give our law enforcement the tools that they need in the toolkit to make everyone safe in this

Building,” she said.

Senators then voted 32-7 against the change. Cavanaugh has also introduced a bill to make the same change, so the issue will be discussed again when that bill gets a public hearing.

For the most part, the rules debate, which had been expected to be contentious, was instead, calm.

Sen. Danielle Conrad praised the process, including a lengthy public hearing on proposed rules changes that stretched past 10 o’clock last Thursday evening.

“What a healthy and positive sign for our democracy in Nebraska, to have such a robust set of proposals about how we organize our work together before the Rules Committee, and to literally have -- I think I saw one headline -- 100 Nebraskans show up to weigh in, from all across the state and all across the political spectrum, on issues that were important to them and how we conduct our business,” Conrad said.

For his part, as Thursday’s rules debate proceeded, Sen. Steve Erdman, chair of the Rules Committee, promised to be brief, and not talk more than people were willing to listen. Erdman recalled the advice given to him by a man at a town hall meeting in Potter, Nebraska.

“I had made a presentation, and perhaps it was a little long. There was a rancher setting by the door as I was leaving and he said ‘Sonny, I want to tell you something. He said ‘When I go out to feed the cows, if they don't all come up, I don't feed them the whole bale,’” Erdman said.

Senators voted 44-0 to adopt the changes recommended by the Rules Committee. For the most part, they are noncontroversial, technical changes. One gives the introducer of a bill the right to speak first if another senator has moved to kill a bill.

But Erdman warned more controversial proposals could yet come up.

“I have had a lot of requests from people about ‘What about open voting? Where's that rule change? Where is the rule change on major proposals?’ I have one, barring the media from being in executive session. It is my intent to vote those out to bring those to the floor and then we'll really have something to discuss,” Erdman said.

Erdman added that if the committee advances those after another public hearing, it will be up to Speaker of the Legislature John Arch whether to schedule them for debate.