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Bill would clarify when Nebraskans can use guns to protect property, senator says

Bill would clarify when Nebraskans can use guns to protect property, senator says

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LINCOLN — Nebraskans would be given more leeway to use deadly force to defend their property, workplace or vehicle under a bill introduced Tuesday by State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru.

Current state law requires people to retreat, if they can safely, when facing a violent confrontation.

Julie Slama

Julia Slama

But under Legislative Bill 300, gun owners would be granted a “rebuttable presumption” to use deadly force when they believe “reasonably and in good faith” that they are endangered by an unlawful intruder. A rebuttable exception means the law would require the court to presume a gun owner had legal cause for taking action, unless that were disproven.

The bill also provides a rebuttable presumption that anyone trying to forcefully enter a dwelling, business or vehicle “is doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.”

“This bill better protects the Second Amendment and clarifies Nebraskans’ rights to defend themselves and their property,” Slama said. The senator said she’s been working on the bill since 2019. The measure has 15 co-sponsors.

But an advocate for a reduction in gun violence said LB 300 appears to give someone a “license to kill” in road-rage incidents or even when a couple of protesters might be crossing the street in front of a vehicle.

Amanda Gailey of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence said it appears the bill would have provided legal protection for Omaha bar owner Jake Gardner to shoot and kill a protester, James Scurlock, in a confrontation in front of his business during a Black Lives Matter protest in May.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine declined to prosecute Gardner, saying he appeared to act in self-defense. But later, after a grand jury examined the incident, Gardner was indicted for manslaughter and four other charges. The bar owner, a military veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, committed suicide before he could stand trial on the charges.

Slama a University of Nebraska law student, said that her bill was not inspired by the Omaha shooting but rather by a desire to clarify state law. Nebraska’s law is based on the Castle Doctrine, which declares that a person has a right to use lethal force to defend their home, or castle, from intruders. The doctrine also provides, in some cases, a duty to retreat.

The senator announced the filing of her bill by posting a photograph on her Facebook page and on Twitter of her pushing a black handgun into a holster.

Several people commented on Slama’s Facebook page that they would prefer a “stand your ground” proposal, which does not require someone to consider retreating, but allows them to meet force with force.

But an advocate for gun rights said LB 300 might clarify even better when a person can use deadly force in defending their home, workplace or vehicle.

Patricia Harrold of the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association said the bill, if passed, would force prosecutors to prove that a gun was used unreasonably to protect someone from harm, rather than putting the burden on the gun owner to prove they had to use a firearm.

It would give homeowners more confidence in using a firearm to defend themselves in their home, Harrold said, by imposing a “reasonable person standard” for the use of force.

“It takes away the fear that many of us have,” she said, that the state won’t recognize our ability to defend ourselves.

Among other bills introduced Monday:

City-county merger. LB 267 would set up a process to allow the merger of Omaha with a “county or counties.” State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha introduced the proposal, saying the distribution of federal coronavirus aid pointed out the problems of having a separate county and city government in Omaha.

Physicians and abortion. A doctor would no longer have to be “physically present” in the same room as the patient when an abortion is being performed under LB 276. Omaha Sens. Megan Hunt and John Cavanaugh introduced the measure. The bill would undo a requirement barring the use of telehealth for medication abortions.

Daylight saving time. Daylight saving time would extend year-round under LB 289, introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese and 16 co-sponsors. Previous attempts to make the change have failed.

Public Service Commission. The board that regulates telecommunications, grain elevators and pipeline routes would be expanded from five members to seven members under LB 293. Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood said that the current five districts are geographically too large to be adequately represented.

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