Nebraska lawmakers consider banning guns at state Capitol
Nebraska lawmakers who for decades have allowed gun owners to openly carry rifles and handguns in most public spaces may be carving out one new exception to that right.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers who for decades have allowed gun owners to openly carry rifles and handguns in most public spaces may be carving out one new exception to that right — at their own workplace in the Capitol.
Some state lawmakers in the nonpartisan Legislature promised Thursday to push for a new ban on guns at the Nebraska Capitol after activists appeared at a legislative hearing with loaded, semiautomatic rifles to protest a series of gun-control bills.
The display last week terrified and infuriated some lawmakers, who called it an intimidation tactic, and even some gun-rights supporters said the protesters shouldn’t have done it. On Thursday, some lawmakers said they had seen online comments from one of those gun owners praising a social media post that said, “Kill your local politician.”
“I don’t have words for how upset I am,” said a visibly angry Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln. “I’m upset, but I’m not scared. I’m not scared of these people, but I’m ashamed that members of this Legislature had to go through this.”
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, of Omaha, who introduced one of the gun control bills, said she was “disappointed and disheartened” that very few of her 48 fellow senators had spoken publicly about the incident.
Cavanaugh said she plans to propose a legislative rule change next week to prohibit members of the public from bringing guns into the building. Last week, she said she felt threatened by show of guns behind her as she testified on her bill.
“I hope all 48 of you are prepared to send cards to my children if something happens to me,” she said through tears.
It’s unclear whether enough lawmakers would support a firearms ban at the Capitol. Some senators criticized last week’s display, but noted that the protesters were within their rights.
“It was not needed in the state Capitol that day, but they have a right to do that,” said Sen. Mike Groene, of North Platte.
Groene, a blunt-spoken conservative, said he and his family have faced threats in the past because he supports capital punishment and opposes abortion. In those cases, he said he reported the threats to the Nebraska State Patrol.
Nebraska prohibits concealed guns in the Capitol but allows gun owners to carry their firearms openly, except on the legislative floor or the balconies above it. Guns are also banned in Nebraska’s appellate courts, the only place in the Capitol where metal detectors are commonly used.
And even though lawmakers have let gun owners to carry openly, they’ve also allowed local cities and counties to impose their own restrictions. In Omaha, for instance, gun owners can only display handguns if they have an “open carry” permit issued by the Nebraska State Patrol.
Similar conflicts have sprouted up in statehouses nationwide. In Idaho, an 11 year-old girl toted a loaded AR-15 assault weapon into a legislative hearing Monday with her grandfather to support a proposal that would allow visitors to Idaho who can legally possess firearms to carry a concealed handgun within city limits. In Kentucky, gun-rights supporters dressed in camouflage and ski masks posed for photos with their assault rifles at a similar event.
Last month, Virginia lawmakers banned guns at the state Capitol despite bitter protests from Republicans who argued that guns protect public safety.
Sen. Mike Hilgers, chairman of the Nebraska Legislature’s Executive Board, which oversees security issues, said he is in talks with the governor’s office, courts and the Nebraska State Patrol to try to find a solution.
“The first priority that I have is the protection and safety of the members (of the Legislature) and the people who work here,” said Hilgers, of Lincoln.
Sen. Ernie Chambers, who is known for making inflammatory statements, said he had received scores of threats from “cowardly white people” over his 46-year legislative career, and he didn’t care if they carried guns in the Capitol.
The Omaha senator said the gun owners brought their firearms “to protect themselves from me. I’m the one they fear, I’m the one they hate.”
“I cannot be intimidated,” said Chambers, who is black. “These cowards look ridiculous.”