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Sen. Steve Halloran

State Sen. Steve Halloran said he’ll continue to pursue a law that would require college and universities to report disruptions to free speech on campuses.

Courtesy photo

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings sits on the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, arguably its most conservative member.

He's a member of the National Rifle Association, holds a concealed carry permit, and believes state senators, those with good training, should be able to tote their guns to work at the Capitol.

He said he plans to introduce a bill in 2019 that would allow school boards to arm teachers voluntarily who are trained "extraordinarily well."

So Halloran thinks it's a bit odd that he would be the one on the Judiciary Committee to support a bill that would keep young people who had been adjudicated in juvenile court from possessing firearms until they are 25, with violation of that being a felony.

Others more inclined to support gun control haven't let the bill out of committee, he said, and now LB990, a priority measure of Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, appears stuck. 

Some state legislatures are racing to react to the most recent public anxiety about gun violence — Florida is working on arming teachers, others are talking about banning military-style assault weapons, prohibiting high-capacity firearm magazines, and "red flag" laws. Nebraska won't be running with them this year.  

It's too late for new bill introductions. And with 24 days left in the short session, and scores of priority bills and the state budget to deal with, gun-related bills are seeing little action. 

Here's some of what the 105th Legislature has done concerning guns in its long and short sessions:

* Senators killed a bill (LB81) that would have allowed counties to raise the fee paid by people applying for handgun permits.

* They passed a bill (LB100) that requires people who ask a mental health board to reinstate their handgun purchase or concealed carry permit to provide "clear and convincing evidence" to support the reinstatement.

* And last session, senators filibustered an NRA-backed bill (LB68) introduced by Sen. Mike Hilgers that would erase the authority of Lincoln and other Nebraska communities to enact their own gun regulations — with a single exception for Omaha. It advanced to second-round consideration, but is not prioritized nor expected to come back for debate.  

* Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks' bill (LB780) to ban bump stocks, or multiburst trigger activators, and firearm silencers, has no priority designation and will probably die when the session ends in April. 

The Judiciary Committee, which is the pass-through for nearly all gun-related bills, has a majority of members who lean left, even with a committee chairwoman — Sen. Laura Ebke — who is a Libertarian and opposed to more restrictions on guns. Four members are Democrats, two are Republicans, and Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers is independent. 

The issue of what to do about gun violence has become more of a philosophical argument for committee members.

Ebke addressed the issue of gun rights and gun violence last month in a letter to constituents.

"Some would argue that further restrictions on gun rights are the answer," she wrote. 

But if you enact a ban, what do you do with the 300 million guns that are already in the hands and gun cabinets of U.S. residents? she said. How are you going to bring them back in?

"I've always (and will continue to support) the right to keep and bear arms. But I'm willing to have the conversation about mitigating the fears many have to see if we can find common ground."

What can the Legislature realistically do, without violating the Constitution, she asked.

It's awfully tough to get people on the two sides together to talk without calling each other names and being disagreeable, she said. 

So along with no action, maybe no talking, either. 

Sen. Adam Morfeld, a committee member, handgun owner and a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law, would like to see action, if not this year then next. 

He's not anti-gun, he said. But he's in favor of reasonable restrictions of gun rights that prevent tragedies like what happened last month in Parkland, Florida.

He is considering a so-called "red flag" bill next year that would enable law enforcement to temporarily restrict ownership and possession of firearms if people have mental health issues that could lead to violence, suicidal threats, threats to harm others, or other warning signs of dangerous behavior. 

Background checks may also need to be more stringent, he said.  

When there's a domestic assault, law enforcement should have the ability to confiscate guns temporarily, and he has a bill (LB394) that was advanced from the committee that would do that. But it has no priority designation. 

The state should at least look at an assault weapons ban, Morfeld said, and at the same time address mental health services.

"We have gutted our community-based mental health services for the last 10 to 20 years," he said. "What happens is people end up self-medicating, generally getting involved in illegal activity, and sometimes that illegal activity then erupts into gun violence."

But that will all have to wait. 

Sen. Bob Krist, a member of the committee and Democratic candidate for governor, said the Second Amendment must be respected, but what businesses such as Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart have done — raising the purchase age for guns to 21 — is "extremely appropriate." 

First National Bank took a strong stand in breaking its relationship with the NRA, but the criticism and threats to the bank that followed from state treasurer candidates John Murante and Taylor Royal were  wrong, he said. 

"Why would we ever try to penalize a business for taking a stand against gun violence?" he said. 

He's also disappointed that it's taking so long for the state to complete safety assessments in Nebraska's schools, as required by a law passed in 2014. 

The legislation created a state school security position with duties including conducting an assessment of the security of each public school building in the state by Aug. 31, 2019.

State School Security Director Jolene Palmer has said that of the 1,130 schools in the state, 500 have done their own safety assessments and 370 outside assessments are complete.  

Pansing Brooks said some Nebraska senators may be reluctant to alter gun laws, even in the wake of so much violence, because they want to keep their elected office.  

"I think that people are scared that it’s seen as anti-gun,” she said. And anti-Second Amendment. 

But she holds on to hope for common-sense laws, and often quotes the writing of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Like most rights, Scalia said, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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