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Handguns

Some of the handguns turned in on Lincoln's first Gun Amnesty Day in 2013.

A gun control organization that pushed for a mandatory storage law in Lincoln is still hopeful even after a task force studying the issue stopped short of recommending it.

"We're going to keep pushing for that (ordinance)," said Melody Vaccaro, executive director of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. 

Four members of the Lincoln City Council interviewed Wednesday expressed little desire to introduce such a proposal to require firearm security in the home. 

Those council members applauded the work of the 17-member group, called the Child Access to Firearms/Safe Storage Task Force. 

Former Mayor Chris Beutler created the task force in January after Vaccaro's group called for an ordinance aimed at forcing gun owners to lock their guns up in the home. 

No one on the task force argued against the benefits of securing firearms, but there was concern about how a mandate might be enforced.

Among the barriers to consensus, Vaccaro said, was the tight timeline the group worked under. The task force simply didn't have enough time to talk about specific language, but she applauded the work and approach of the group on an often contentious debate. 

The diverse group, which included police officers, public health and school officials and a gun store owner, among others, focused on data, she said. 

And the group's conclusion in the 21-page report didn't deny the underlying problem, she said. 

From 1995 to 2018, 18 of the 42 suicides of youths 18 and younger in the city involved firearms, the report said. Ten of those cases involved unsecured guns, and in the remaining two, the guns were secured but easily accessible.

It also noted instances where police encountered teens with guns and the eight times students brought firearms to a Lincoln middle or high school between 2014 and 2018. 

"Some in the group felt that the numbers were not high enough to justify actions where there was not a consensus," the task force said in the report.

The task force did recommend the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office and Lancaster County Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition partner together and hand out free gun locks to people applying for handgun purchase permits, as well as information on safe gun storage. Gun locks are handed out during annual gun amnesty events by Lincoln police, the report noted.

A majority of the task force also recommended the city enforce its ordinance banning the storage of guns inside motor vehicles for longer than 24 hours. 

In a news release, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird thanked the task force members for their time and the report.  

"I look forward to working with council to determine the next steps," she said.

Two City Council members said they were still reviewing the report, released Tuesday afternoon. And Councilman Bennie Shobe, who was on the task force, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Roy Christensen, a Republican, said he worries a law that requires gun owners to lock them up could have unintended consequences.

An ordinance that would penalize gun owners whose guns were stolen while unsecured creates a disincentive to report the theft. 

"You’ve made the victim the criminal,” Christensen said. 

He doesn't believe the research and data uncovered by the task force necessitates a law change, but he'd support a city education campaign on gun storage or a private sector-led offering of gun safety classes, or low-cost or free gun safes or trigger locks, he said. 

Council Chair Jane Raybould, a Democrat, said she'd support an ordinance on the issue only after assessing data from an education campaign to examine whether that led to fewer gun thefts, for example. 

She's already got a slogan ready: "Lock it up. Safe storage saves lives." 

Raybould said she supports the other initiatives mentioned by the report, including a mandatory gun theft reporting ordinance that offers a grace-period to make a police report. 

She also supports a proposal to extend the offer of free trigger locks to those getting handgun purchase permits. 

"These are very practical, reasonable steps that don't infringe on anybody’s rights and really is a step to make our community safer," Raybould said. 

Councilman Richard Meginnis, a Republican, said he generally believes a safe storage ordinance has enforceability issues.

Councilwoman Tammy Ward, a Democrat, said she would support city-led education efforts, but she, too, has concerns about the ability to enforce a safe storage ordinance.

"I believe the majority of gun owners in Lincoln take gun safety seriously," Ward said. "However, I welcome this conversation to remind all gun owners about the grave responsibility they have to store and secure their firearms."

But Vaccaro said she believes you can't have an effective public education campaign without a law change, and the topic deserves serious consideration.

"When you change the law, the behavior in the public changes, and what you get is fewer children interacting with guns when they shouldn’t be," she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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