State ban on local gun regulations debated; corporate hog ownership advances

Jan. 22, 2016, 5:39 a.m. ·

Nebraska Legislature preparing to advance corporate hog bill (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Cities and villages in Nebraska could not enact ordinances to prevent carrying concealed weapons under a bill being debated in the Legislature. And a bill allowing meatpacking companies to own hogs has advanced to within one vote of becoming law.

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete introduced the bill prohibiting cities from enacting ordinances to prevent carrying concealed guns. Ebke says it would be better to have one uniform state law, instead of a patchwork of local ones. "State law regulates the sale, lease, rental and transfer of handguns. It makes sense, I believe, that the state law should also regulate possession and transportation of handguns," Ebke said.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha opposes the idea. Chambers ridiculed what he described as the paranoid mindset of its supporters: "To let these people drive across the state and say ‘Well, I’m so scared I gotta have my gun with me all the time. And if there are any laws that might stop me from having my gun, then I want you to change that law,’" Chambers said.

Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha also opposed the bill, and questioned the motives of its supporters. "Everybody in here knows that these guns that people are so encouraged about having possession of are to shoot another person when they feel like it. When they feel like ‘Oh, she didn’t do what I told her to do. I want to be in control. I have the gun. I’m the big man.’ (Or) ‘You scare me because of your gender, your race, your age, the part of town I’m in. I have a gun, so I’m safe. And I’m better than you,’" Cook said.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue supported the bill. Garrett said it takes guts to carry a gun. "It takes guts to carry a gun because it’s an awesome responsibility . None of us who are gun proponents carry that lightly. We know the awesomeness of what it is that a firearm -- the damage that a firearm can do. And it rightfully scares us. I think if you ask any of the state patrolmen or anybody else: carrying a firearm is a very awesome responsibility," Garrett said.

The Legislature adjourned without reaching a vote on the bill. Debate is scheduled to resume Monday.

Also Friday, lawmakers voted the second of three approvals that would be required to pass a bill allowing meatpacking companies to own hogs in Nebraska. Supporters, like Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, say the state needs to change by removing its existing ban. "Agriculture’s a business, like anything else. You either grow and innovate, or you perish by the wayside. It’s as simple as that," Larson said.

Opponents like Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner warned the bill would squeeze out independent pork producers to benefit Smithfield Foods, Inc., a Chinese-owned company that supports the change. "Don’t let this big company influence your decision. Cause that’s what I feel is happening," Schnoor said.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said allowing packer ownership would result in the vertical integration of the industry, allowing companies to tell farmers what to do. He asked if laws allowing that were being challenged in other states. Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, chief sponsor of lifting the ban, responded "As far as hogs go, they don’t have to be. Because all 49 other states allow this."

Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis said that was not a convincing reason to change. "Some of the things that are said here just amaze me. One of them was ‘We’re the only one left. Forty-nine states have done it. We’ve got to do something else.’ My gosh. You know we are the only unicameral, and we are all proud of that," Davis said.

In the end, 33 senators voted to shut off debate and vote on the bill itself. It got second-round approval on a vote of 32-12. It would still need one more round of approval, with 33 votes if opponents continue to filibuster against it, to pass.