Filibuster Used in the Latest State Gun Control Preemption Fight

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Fueled by national gun rights groups, state lawmakers across the country have steadily stripped away the power of local officials to make gun laws. Is Nebraska next?

“This isn’t the Wild West. This isn’t every gun in every place,” Nebraska State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said during a filibuster at the Capitol on Tuesday that reflected frustrations being felt by lawmakers from urban districts around the country who often feel steamrolled by rural colleagues on what they see as a crucial safety issue.  

The filibuster was successful—for now. It delayed first-round voting on a bill that seeks to preempt local gun “carry” ordinances, effectively replacing them with looser state laws, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Critics of the measure cited city opposition from police and described alarming scenarios they thought rural lawmakers backing the plan might not have considered—bars and concert venues crowded with hundreds or thousands of people swigging beer for hours and bumping up against each with pistols strapped to their hips, a powder keg of potential deadly violence or fatal accidents.

The sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Mike Hilgers, a Lincoln resident, sought to play down fears. He argued the “common sense” bill sought simply to lift the confusing patchwork of gun laws in the state, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. Hilgers said that under the law, building managers would retain the property right to set rules for entry.

It’s a Nebraska version of an argument that has dominated gun debate in recent years in nearby states such as Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. It crops up on a regular schedule as the gun lobby digs deeper into state legislative machinery and as gun rights become an increasingly fundamental part of political party brands.

As the Omaha World-Herald reported in writing about the filibuster in Lincoln, 42 states have passed gun preemption bills and all of these states voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election. Nebraska is the only state to vote for Trump that has yet to pass a gun-law preemption bill.

The chances the bill will pass in Nebraska are strong.

Lawmakers in 2013 managed to pass a gun permitting preemption proposal in Illinois despite the opposition of the power brokers from Chicago and surrounding Cook County, the state’s mega population center.

As The Atlantic reported, the measure included a preemption clause prohibiting Chicago and other cities in the state from passing local ordinances restricting concealed carry. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart reported that hundreds of people with criminal records have been cleared for concealed carry by the state. He added that 12 of the state’s certified concealed-carry instructors have criminal backgrounds.

The war in the states over who should best set gun policy will continue.

John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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