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

LINCOLN — With threats against politicians on the increase, a Nebraska group is calling for approval of a ban on the open carrying of guns at the Nebraska State Capitol.

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

“In a time of increased political violence, including threats and actions, we are asking the Legislature to protect the state government of Nebraska from harm,” said Melody Vaccaro, executive director of the group. “Weapons, including guns, do not belong in political making bodies.”

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha proposed the change, telling the Legislature’s Rules Committee that she was “terrified” in 2020 when two men openly carried semi-automatic assault rifles in the Capitol.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

The incident occurrred as a legislative committee that included Cavanaugh was holding a public hearing on a bill designed to reduce suicides involving guns.

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

But the open carry of firearms is permitted for anyone in Nebraska age 18 and older, unless prohibited by local government. Some areas, such as schools, are off-limits for open carry, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.

Ricketts opposed ban in Capitol

Following 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 advocate, said he opposed any limit on the carrying of guns, citing the 2nd Amendment. Ricketts, in a Facebook post, also thanked the throng of gun-rights advocates who filled the hallways of the Capitol to oppose the suicide prevention bill.

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

But others at the hearing opposed the gun ban, saying it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

One man, who said he was openly carrying a handgun when he testified Thursday, said some mass shootings have been thwarted by armed citizens.

 Vaccaro said threats and intimidation aimed at policymakers is  on the rise in the United States.

Threats investigated by U.S. Capitol Police went from about 900 in 2016 to nearly 10,000 in 2020, according to The Guardian. A recent study at the University of California-Davis found that 20% of those polled believe that political violence is “sometimes” justifiable.

34 states ban guns at capitols

In addition, a recent poll conducted 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-fourths of respondents said they believe threats against politicians have increased in recent years.

A 2021 report from the Council of State Governments said that 34 states and the District of Columbia ban the possession of firearms on state capitol grounds.

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

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, who chairs the Rules Committee, said the committee will meet Tuesday afternoon in executive session to decide which of the more than 50 proposed rule changes will be advanced for debate by the full Legislature.

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