Gun rights advocates expressed fears Wednesday that their rights were in jeopardy because of the election of President Joe Biden and a promised push in Washington to address gun violence.
"We're at a dangerous point of losing our constitutional rights," said Anthony Arnold of Ashland.
He was among two dozen people who testified, and 238 who submitted letters, in support of a bill that would prohibit the Nebraska State Patrol, local sheriffs or the Nebraska National Guard from enforcing any new federal restrictions on gun rights.
Most backers voiced worries about losing rights to hunt, participate in shooting sports or the ability to protect themselves. But the sponsor of the proposal said his main goal would be to block the confiscation of guns, ammunition or accessories in the event the president or Congress made such a move.
While Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings said he was unaware of any current federal moves to do that, he describing his "Second Amendment Preservation Act" as "an effort to anticipate something happening."
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"People are very, very protective of their liberty and their Second Amendment rights," Halloran said.
Other senators on the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee expressed doubts about the power of states to supersede federal laws, and about whether LB188 was even necessary.
Haven't the courts already upheld Americans' rights to hold and bear arms, asked Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood.
"What are we trying to fix that's broken?" she said.
Halloran said that it's possible that federal laws or executive orders could go into effect before they could be shot down by a judge or court.
Similar Second Amendment Preservation Acts have been passed by a handful of states, including Kansas, and are being considered in Texas and Missouri, Halloran said.
He defended the constitutionality of his proposal, citing a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked the federal government from using local police chiefs and sheriffs temporarily to conduct background checks of handgun purchasers until a federal system was established under the Brady Bill.
But in 2019, a similar Second Amendment preservation act in Kansas failed to offer legal protection for two men who bought and sold short shotguns and silencers, in violation of federal law. The Brennan Institute, which is regarded as a liberal organization, said the Kansas law should be described as a "Second Amendment Surrender Act" because it meant the men lost their rights to possess firearms.
Biden has not taken significant action on gun issues, but his "plan to control gun violence" campaign website includes a ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Among other things, it also lists a "buy back" program for such items and restrictions on how many firearms a person could buy per month.
Those testifying in support of LB188 said that their right to own such weapons should not be infringed in any way, and that the framers of the Constitution meant to allow citizens to defend themselves against tyranny.
The only person to testify against the bill was Judy King of the group Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. She said LB188 had its roots in the "Anti-American movement" that spawned the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"Nobody is above the law, not even the State of Nebraska," King said.
A second bill heard by the Government Committee on Wednesday would give counties the power, by ordinance, to allow their citizens to carry concealed firearms without a permit.
Such "constitutional" or "permitless carry" is allowed in about 18 states, including Kansas, Missouri, Wyoming and South Dakota. Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer said his LB236 would allow Nebraska counties to decide, enhancing local control.
Sgt. Aaron Hanson of the Omaha Police Officers Association testified in favor of the bill, saying that metro areas, as well as Sandhills counties, could decide what's appropriate.
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