Lawmakers in Iowa and Nebraska Prepare Push for Gun-Rights Laws

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Iowa and Nebraska legislators are preparing a new push for gun-rights laws next year, and they may be in a good position to succeed after past failures.

Republicans will soon hold majorities in both the Iowa House and Senate, and in Nebraska, a leading gun-rights advocate said he’s hopeful newly elected conservative senators will support a proposal that could overturn local gun restrictions in Omaha and Lincoln.

In Iowa, the Senate controlled by Democrats for a decade has typically been skeptical about gun-rights legislation, though it has approved some measures. The chamber is expected to be more welcoming of gun bills when the Legislature convenes in January after voters gave Republicans solid control of the Senate.

“I think it will make a substantial difference,” said Iowa state Rep. Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone. “I certainly anticipate that we’ll see some gun legislation” in next year’s session.

The list could include allowing guns on public property, such as college campuses; elimination of permit requirements for handguns; and stand-your-ground legislation, which would allow a person to use force without retreating when they believe they are threatened. Earlier this year, a bill that would have let children under age 14 to use handguns with adult supervision died in the Senate.

Nebraska state Sen. Laura Ebke, a gun-rights advocate, said she expects lawmakers will debate a bill that would prohibit local governments from imposing gun restrictions that go beyond state law. A similar measure came up one vote short of the 33 needed to overcome a legislative filibuster when lawmakers debated it earlier this year.

Ebke said it’s too early to know how the bill will fare, but the officially nonpartisan Legislature will see a major shakeup because of term limits and ousted incumbents. Next year’s session will bring 17 new senators, accounting for more than one-third of the 49-person one-house Legislature.

“We’re talking about constitutional rights,” said Ebke, of Crete. “To the extent we believe there ought to be some regulations, it ought to be done on a statewide basis rather than on a piecemeal, local basis.”

The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups lobbied aggressively for the bill, but Lincoln city officials and Omaha’s police union opposed the measure because it would overturn local gun ordinances. Supporters countered that gun owners could unintentionally violate the ordinances by traveling through cities with a patchwork of regulations.

Omaha’s police union said it would undermine the city’s handgun registration ordinance, which lets police deny guns to mentally ill people and known gang associates, and its restrictions on handguns for juveniles.

Lincoln’s current gun ordinances prohibit gun possession on city buses, in landfills and parks, and in city and county buildings. One ordinance gives the mayor power to restrict gun sales and possession during a declared state of emergency.

The proposal remains a top priority for the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association, said Rodney Moeller, the group’s president.

Moeller said gun-rights activists may pursue other legislation as well but haven’t yet committed. Two of his group’s strongest allies, Sens. Tommy Garrett and David Schnoor, were defeated in the November election, but Moeller said he’s optimistic that some of the newly elected state senators will advocate for expanded gun rights.

Advocates against gun violence are planning campaigns of their own in both Iowa and Nebraska, arguing that such proposals will lead to more deaths.

“We’re not giving up,” said Jan Hobbs, a Nebraska chapter leader for the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “I’m going to fight just as hard as ever, and we have many other members who feel the same way.”

Hobbs said the Nebraska bill would undermine local control and offer a blanket approach in a state that’s both urban and rural.

“It would make it harder for Nebraska mayors and law enforcement to keep our communities safe while making it easier for the gun lobby to push their dangerous agenda,” she said.