With threats against politicians rising, group says it’s time to ban guns at Nebraska State Capitol

LINCOLN – Amid rising threats against politicians, a Nebraska group is calling for approval of a ban on open carrying guns at the Nebraska State Capitol.

Nebraskans Against Gun Violence was among those who testified at a legislative hearing last week in support of a rule change that would ban the open carrying of firearms and other weapons in the Nebraska Capitol.

“At a time of increasing political violence, including threats and action, we call on the Legislature to protect the state government of Nebraska from harm,” said Melody Vaccaro, group executive director. “Weapons, including firearms, do not belong in political decision-making bodies.”

State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha proposed the change, telling the legislature’s rules committee that in 2020 she was “startled” when two men in the Capitol openly carried semi-automatic assault rifles.

State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh
State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha (Courtesy Unicameral Information Office)

The incident came as a legislative committee that Cavanaugh was a member was holding a public hearing on a bill aimed at reducing firearm suicides.

Carrying concealed weapons in the State Capitol is prohibited because the Supreme Court and State Court of Appeals have courtrooms in the building (carrying concealed weapons in a courthouse is prohibited).

But open carrying of firearms is legal for anyone in Nebraska over the age of 18 unless prohibited by local government. Some areas, like schools, are closed to open carry, according to the US Concealed Carry Association.

Ricketts defied the ban in the Capitol

After the 2020 incident, there were calls to ban the open carrying of guns, but nothing happened.

At the time, then-Gov. Pete Ricketts, a gun rights attorney, said he opposes any restriction on the carrying of guns, citing the 2nd Amendment. Ricketts also thanked the mob of gun rights activists who filled the Capitol hallways to oppose the Suicide Prevention Act in a Facebook post.

Under Cavanaugh’s proposed rule change, only law enforcement and military personnel would be allowed to openly carry guns in the state capitol. During Thursday’s Rules Committee meeting, she pointed out that carrying signs at legislative hearings is banned, so why not guns?

But others at the hearing opposed the gun ban, saying it violated the US Constitution.

A man who said he openly carried a handgun when testifying Thursday said some mass shootings were foiled by armed citizens.

Vaccaro said threats and intimidation against policymakers in the United States are increasing.

According to The Guardian, threats investigated by U.S. Capitol Police increased from about 900 in 2016 to nearly 10,000 in 2020. A recent study conducted at the University of California-Davis found that 20% of respondents believe political violence is “sometimes ‘ is justified.

34 states ban guns in capital cities

Additionally, a recent poll by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in six election officials who responded have received threats because of their job. More than three-quarters of respondents said threats against politicians have increased in recent years.

A 2021 report by the Council of State Governments said 34 states and the District of Columbia ban firearm possession on state capital grounds.

Nebraska and Louisiana, the report says, are the only states that allow open carry while banning concealed carry of firearms.

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, chairman of the rules committee, said the committee will meet in an executive session Tuesday afternoon to decide which of the more than 50 proposed rule changes will go to the entire Legislature for debate.

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