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Nebraska lawmakers spar over permitless concealed carry bill

March 11, 2022 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers struggled Thursday over a measure that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit, an idea supported by gun-rights advocates despite concerns from some law enforcement officials.

State senators spent the day debating the proposal but failed to reach a vote, which is now expected on Friday. If it passes, Nebraska would join 21 other rural, conservative-leaning states that have lifted the permit requirement. Another five states have measures pending that could pass this year.

Supporters of the Nebraska bill need at least 33 votes in the 49-member Legislature to overcome a filibuster led by opponents. Three votes are required before it would go to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the bill.

The vote is expected to be close. The bill had been stuck in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, but the full Legislature voted to pull it to the floor for debate under a rarely used parliamentary rule that overrode the committee’s decision.

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Sen. Tom Brewer, the proposal’s lead sponsor, said he and many gun owners see the issue as a constitutional right and likened the current restrictions to a poll tax, a comparison that opponents reject.

“We have a responsibility to the Constitution and the people of Nebraska,” said Brewer, of Gordon.

Nebraska already allows gun owners to carry firearms in public view, as long as they aren’t in a place where it’s prohibited and don’t have a criminal record that bars them from possessing one. To legally conceal the gun, they’re required to submit to a Nebraska State Patrol background check, get fingerprinted and take a gun safety course at their own expense.

The bill faces opposition from Lincoln police, and other law enforcement agencies are lukewarm. Omaha police officials were initially opposed as well, but changed their stance to “neutral” after Brewer made changes to enhance criminal penalties for people who commit certain crimes with a gun in their possession.

Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, said getting rid of the training requirement for concealed-carry permits would endanger public safety.

“The purpose of the law is ensure that people have the requisite background and training,” said Morfeld, adding that he holds a concealed-carry permit.

Sen. Curt Friesen, of Henderson, said he doesn’t believe current state law prevents bad actors from getting or hiding guns.

“This permit doesn’t stop anything,” Friesen said. “I don’t see how it makes us any safer. I’m failing to see how it stops anything bad from happening.”

Gun-control advocates counter that the permitting process ensures that people get a minimal amount of training before they’re allowed to carry a gun discreetly.

“I don’t want to pass laws that could make our communities or our kids less safe,” said Sen. Tony Vargas, of Omaha.

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