Nebraska permitless carry bill moves forward after talk of "compromise"

Nebraska permitless carry bill moves forward after talk of "compromise"
(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

The good news? Permitless carry is making progress in the Nebraska legisature; clearing a key committee hurdle late last week without a dissenting vote. In fact, two Democrats joining their Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee in sending LB 77 to the floor of the unicameral legislature for debate.

The bad news? We don’t know if the bill will be worth supporting in its final form, given all the talk about an undefined “compromise” on the legislation floating around the statehouse.

[Sen. Justin] Wayne, the committee chair, said Friday’s vote reflected the fact that lawmakers are working to reach an agreement with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, to address some of the concerns expressed during a public hearing two weeks ago. As of Friday afternoon, however, lawmakers hadn’t settled on the terms of the agreement.

Brewer has tried to get the Legislature to approve the issue since he first took office in 2017. A similar bill he brought last year narrowly fell short because of a filibuster.

The recent public hearing on LB77 lasted hours, with dozens of people testifying both for and against the bill. Opponents generally argued that the legislation would make Nebraska more dangerous, but Brewer said the agreement is more focused on concerns from local police.

Those objections range from “we don’t like this at all” to “maybe we could support this… if you carve out an exception for our city.”

The Omaha and Lincoln Police Departments, along with the Omaha police union, oppose LB77. Police have opposed previous iterations of the bill, and Brewer has proposed amendments in an attempt to gain their support, but those amendments also failed and were not incorporated into LB77.

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said he was concerned that the bill would make it easier for people with criminal offenses to access firearms. During the hearing, Schmaderer suggested altering the bill to make exceptions for Omaha. Such a carveout was proposed last year but failed in the face of opposition from hard-line gun rights advocates who opposed any exceptions.

Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins, also speaking at last month’s hearing, drew a hard line against the bill in its entirety.

“I have not asked for a carveout,” Ewins said. “I think this legislation is extremely dangerous.”

Brewer did not specify what could be considered as part of an agreement, but said he hopes legislation on judicial reform will help lawmakers reach a resolution. He declined to elaborate when asked.

Any “compromise” that ends up negating permitless carry in the state’s population centers or adds more gun control to the books in exchange for removing the concealed carry requirement for legal gun owners is going to run into a buzzsaw of opposition from Nebraska gun owners, especially given that Brewer has been pretty confident up to this point that the votes are there to enact the measure without watering down its language. Now, however, he’s more hesitant about predicting the outcome of the legislation.

Though the Legislature is dominated by Republicans, accounting for 32 of the 49 lawmakers, Brewer said he is invested with resolving the agreement. He said many factors, including the agreement, could impact the bill’s success on the floor.

“It’s just one of those issues that — it causes folks to usually kind of polarize one way or another,” Brewer said. “And you just hope that enough of them are on your side.”

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what this “compromise” looks like. If it involves increasing the penalties for using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, or upping the punishment for those prohibited by law from possessing a gun when they’re caught with one, as some lawmakers have suggested, that will probably be acceptable to most permitless carry supporters in the state. But if the final version of LB 77 winds up watering-down some aspects of the right to keep and bear arms, even while strengthening others, the overall bill may not be worth backing in the end.

We’ll hopefully have a better idea of what this supposed compromise looks like later this week, but now would be a great time for Nebraska gun owners to contact their state senator and urge them to stand firm in support of a strong permitless carry bill that doesn’t just pay lip service to our Second Amendment rights.