A state senator from Bellevue says he'll introduce a bill to eliminate gun-free zones in Nebraska next year, reacting to nationwide outrage following this month's mass shooting at an Oregon community college.

"The gun-free zones are what's killing us," Sen. Tommy Garrett said Friday.

Nebraska law prohibits concealed guns in a wide range of places: colleges, churches, schools, sporting events, hospitals, banks and bars.

Garrett's staff is drafting legislation that would eliminate most of those gun-free zones, allowing people with concealed-carry permits to take their firearms almost anywhere in the state, while retaining exceptions for police stations, courthouses, jails and prisons.

Individual private businesses would still be allowed to ban concealed weapons, and Garrett hasn't decided whether his bill will retain other gun-free zones such as polling places, school board meeting rooms and the legislative chamber of the state Capitol.

Nebraska already takes steps to ensure concealed-carry permit holders are responsible, he said. Those include background checks and firearms training.

"These are not criminals. They are not wackos. They are not people that are mentally unstable," Garrett said. "They're law-abiding, God-fearing American citizens."

Supporters of less restrictive gun control laws have pointed to the case of Chris Mintz, the 30-year-old Army veteran who was shot several times while trying to save others during the Oct. 1 rampage at Umpqua Community College that killed 10 people, including the shooter. Mintz was unarmed at the time.

"Had he had a weapon, you know, I think there would have been a lot less loss of life," Garrett said.

The University of Nebraska has historically opposed efforts to allow concealed weapons on campus, but a spokeswoman said university leaders would not comment without seeing the bill itself.

UNL Police Chief Owen Yardley, who spoke on his own behalf, said allowing concealed guns on campus would complicate things for police and potentially endanger more people.

Right now, he said, police who receive reports of an armed person on campus take those situations seriously. Letting some people carry but not others "really muddies it" and makes it more difficult for officers to sort the good from the bad, he said.

College campuses nationwide are also struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues among students.

"None of those are a good combination with guns," Yardley said. The same goes for football games and other events where there are "a lot of things going on that people can get excited about."

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Nebraska is one of 19 states that prohibit carrying a concealed weapon on college campuses, and 23 states allow individual colleges and universities to ban concealed weapons themselves.

Texas recently became the eighth state to specifically allow concealed guns on campus, with a bill passed by its state legislature that will go into effect next August.

Garrett said mass murderers tend to target places with gun restrictions.

"They're pretty darn confident that, hey, nobody's going to stand against them," he said.

Research, however, has shown that most mass shootings take place where guns are allowed.

Umpqua College banned concealed guns within buildings on its campus in Roseburg, Oregon, but many students have said they carried them anyway, based on their interpretation of a state law that allows them on campus grounds.

Yardley mentioned John Parker Jr., an Umpqua student and Air Force veteran who told several media outlets he was armed and on campus at the time of the attack but chose not to intervene. He has since said he was prevented from doing so by school staff.

"He opted not to get involved because he thought he was going to be mistaken with the shooter," Yardley said.

News reports have been filled with accounts of mass shootings, Garrett said, noting the events in Oregon along with rampages at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July and at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

Nebraska, too, has experienced deadly mass shootings in recent years: the robbery of a US Bank branch in Norfolk in 2002 and the assault on Von Maur at Omaha's Westroads Mall in 2007.

Garrett introduced bills last legislative session that would have allowed concealed handguns in all restaurants in the state, including those that primarily sell alcohol, and made it easier for military members and their spouses to renew concealed-carry permits while serving outside the state. Neither bill has advanced from the Judiciary Committee, where his new proposal is expected to go.

The Air Force veteran, who now owns an intelligence firm that consults with the federal government, said he can't go to a movie anymore without checking the exits.

"It's a sad commentary on our time, I think," Garrett said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.


Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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