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Open carry of guns in Nebraska State Capitol: Speaker calls it 'a safety issue'

LINCOLN — The spectacle of visitors openly carrying semi-automatic rifles in the halls of the State Capitol has state legislators determining what, if anything, can be done about that.

Even the speaker of the Nebraska Legislature said he was surprised to learn that people can openly carry guns in the Capitol.

“I’m not anti-gun, but there’s a place for everything,” said State Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, who said it raises “a safety issue.”

The speaker and others were reacting to a rally on Friday, when more than 400 gun rights advocates descended on the Capitol to testify against two gun control bills.

Among them were two Omaha men who were openly carrying semi-automatic rifles, as well as at least one man openly carrying a handgun on his belt.

At least one of the rifle-toting men testified before the Judiciary Committee while holding his weapon.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, who introduced one of the bills, said she was “traumatized” by the open display of guns at the Capitol and felt that the show of firearms was intimidating to senators and those seeking to testify.

“People have a right to be heard. They don’t have a right to intimidate,” she said.

But the head of the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association said she found it “disrespectful” that senators didn’t know that open carry was allowed at the Capitol.

Pat Harrold of Papillion, the firearm group’s president, said gun owners seeking to protect themselves had no choice but to open carry because they can’t carry concealed firearms in the Capitol. That is prohibited by state law because the building contains a courtroom — the courtrooms of the Nebraska Supreme Court and the State Court of Appeals.

Nebraska law also allows people to openly carry firearms, except at schools, on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities. Private businesses, by posting signs detailing their policies, can also restrict firearms.

“We prefer the ability to defend ourselves,” Harrold said. “I’m armed everywhere I go. It’s just like putting on my seat belt. ... An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Nebraska has one of the most open state capitols in the nation. Most, including Iowa’s, require visitors to walk through a metal detector, but that’s not the case in Lincoln, except for those attending oral arguments in the courtrooms.

State capitols have a mixture of rules on concealed carry, with some allowing it and some permitting only state officials to carry concealed handguns, according to the Council of State Governments. Most state capitols ban open carry, according to the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, but it is allowed in Michigan, Montana and North Carolina, as well as Nebraska.

Bob Ripley, the Nebraska Capitol administrator, said open carry is permitted in the Capitol because it’s allowed by state law. He added that it wasn’t a surprise when people showed up with firearms.

“Our security staff was well aware well in advance that these bills were being heard and there was a high likelihood that people would appear with weapons in tow,” Ripley said. “Nothing came out of it. We were delighted by that.”

Both Scheer and Sen. Mike Hilgers, who heads the Legislature’s Executive Board, said they were reviewing the rules and laws concerning open carry of firearms to determine what, if anything, can be done.

Hilgers said it’s not yet clear whether legislators could change their rules to control open carry, or if they would have to pass a law to do that. He said a meeting is planned Tuesday with an attorney from the Nebraska State Patrol to help sort that out.

The senator declined to say whether he supports restrictions on openly carrying firearms at the Capitol, saying he’s focused on reviewing what can be done.

Generally, Hilgers said, committee chairs have the ability to ensure decorum during public hearings. In the past, that has included restrictions on carrying signs or props into such hearings.

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During floor debate Monday, Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon said it was unfair to limit testimony on the gun bills Friday to 1½ minutes per testifier. It denied “the second house” the opportunity to be fully heard, the senator said.

“To be ignored is probably the worst thing we can do,” said Brewer, a leading gun rights legislator. He said the restriction angered some people.

“I don’t think there was a need to bring a gun into the building,” he added. “But it is their right to do that.”

Brewer said gun rights advocates will “stand their ground” and oppose any new restrictions that are proposed.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who presided over the hearings Friday, said he limited testimony to 1½ minutes, rather than the customary three minutes, because hundreds of people raised their hands to express interest in testifying. Allowing everyone three minutes would have extended the public hearings past midnight, Lathrop said.

“It had nothing to do with how I regard the topic,” he said, responding to an assertion by Brewer that the restrictions were imposed because of the Judiciary Committee’s views on gun rights.

The hearings concluded before 6 p.m. Friday. Lathrop said many people apparently decided to leave rather than wait for their turn to comment on the proposals.

World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.

The Nebraska state senators

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UNO receives its largest federal grant ever: $36.5 million for counterterrorism studies

The University of Nebraska at Omaha announced Monday that it has received a $36.5 million federal grant — a UNO record — for research and studies in counterterrorism.

The 10-year grant will make UNO the home of the Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Center of Excellence for Terrorism Prevention and Counterterrorism Research.

UNO put together a team of 17 universities that will include representatives of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the NU Medical Center.


Gina Ligon, chairwoman of collaboration science at UNO, for years has examined how extremist groups use social media to recruit members and spread propaganda.

UNO’s Gina Ligon said 75 universities submitted letters of interest in housing the center. That was trimmed to nine, she said, and then to two — UNO and the University of Maryland.

We competed with the best of the best for this,” Ligon said. “It’s a big deal that we got selected.”

Ligon, the principal investigator on the project, said DHS representatives visited UNO in December.

Gov. Pete Ricketts attended the site visit that day, as did David Brown of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, members of the private sector and UNO and NU officials. Eppley Airfield staffers created digital signage welcoming the DHS representatives.

“The whole state just came together to say, we will do just everything we can to make this successful,” Ligon said.

Ligon, chairwoman of collaboration science at UNO, has examined for years how extremist groups use social media and other elements of the Internet to recruit members and spread propaganda. The extremist groups range from jihadists to anti-government militants, and from neo-Nazi groups to eco-terrorists.

The UNO-based center will work on a range of projects, Ligon said. They include increasing workforce and leadership in counterterrorism, developing entrepreneurs in the field, conducting research, developing degrees and programs for information technology innovation in counterterrorism, and other tasks.

UNO’s Mammel Hall, which is in the midst of a $17 million expansion, will house the center. The university called it the largest single grant in UNO’s 112 years. Although planning is underway, the project officially launches in July.

Ligon said UNO will immediately recruit five new tenured faculty members, plus other staffers. Scholarships will be created to recruit undergraduate and graduate students.

Ted Carter, president of the NU system, said he was proud of UNO for stepping up. “UNO’s designation as a DHS Center of Excellence is a landmark achievement for not only the university, but for the state of Nebraska,” Carter said in a written statement.

Ricketts congratulated UNO for landing the project.

“The Department of Homeland Security validated today what many in our state already know,” he said in a press release. “That UNO is a hub of collaboration and innovation, ready and able to do its part in addressing some of the nation’s most pressing challenges.”

John Verrico, a spokesman for DHS’s science and technology directorate, said nine or 10 department-sponsored university centers function at any one time in the U.S. DHS reaches out to academia and industry for these programs because it doesn’t have the staff to do it alone, Verrico said.

The programs seek to build a community of homeland security researchers and teachers; generate knowledge and technical programs in the homeland security mission; and develop a homeland security science and engineering workforce.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of UNO and UNMC, said: “Dr. Ligon and her team in the College of Business Administration have been studying in the area of counterterrorism for many years and are widely recognized for their research.”

Ligon, 41, came to UNO in 2011 from Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Her husband, Derek, is a pilot and lieutenant colonel at Offutt Air Force Base.

Ligon said she found out about the victory for UNO on Friday. She and her family of four celebrated that evening in an appropriate fashion — with cuts of meat from Omaha Steaks.

Europe and Mideast now battlegrounds in outbreak
WHO urges focus on 'facts not fear'; conflicting death toll reports in Iran raise transparency concerns

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The new coronavirus took aim at a broadening swath of the globe Monday, with officials in Europe and the Middle East scrambling to limit the spread of an outbreak that showed signs of stabilizing at its Chinese epicenter but posed new threats far beyond.

In Italy, authorities set up roadblocks, called off soccer matches and shuttered sites including the famed La Scala opera house. In Iran, the government said 12 people had died nationwide, while five neighboring countries — Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Afghanistan — reported their first cases of the novel coronavirus, with all those infected having links to Iran.

Across the world, stock markets and futures tumbled on fears of a global economic slowdown because of the expanding spread of the virus. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank more than 1,000 points, its biggest decline in two years.

And in Washington, the White House sent lawmakers an urgent $2.5 billion plan to address the coronavirus outbreak. The White House budget office said the funds would be for vaccines, treatment and protective equipment.


Another cruise ship passenger who tested positive has been brought to UNMC. Midlands

Coronavirus fears infect the U.S. stock market; 3.5% drop is the sharpest in two years.

The request was immediately slammed by Democrats as insufficient.

The number of people sickened by the coronavirus topped 79,000 globally, and wherever it sprung up, officials rushed to try to contain it.

"The past few weeks has demonstrated just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world and cause widespread fear and disruption," said the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, yes," Tedros said, but "for the moment we're not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus."

"I have spoken consistently about the need for facts not fear. Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts but it may certainly cause fear," Tedros said, speaking in Geneva.

He said a WHO expert team currently in China believes the virus plateaued there between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has declined since. The team also said the fatality rate in China was between 2% and 4% in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and 0.7% outside of Wuhan.

Clusters of the virus continued to emerge outside China, including in Qom, an Iranian city where the country's semiofficial ILNA news agency cited a lawmaker as reporting that a staggering 50 people had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The country's Health Ministry rejected that, insisting that the death toll remained at 12, with total infections numbering 61.

The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government's transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak. But even with the lower toll of 12, the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Asked about the spike in cases in Iran, WHO's emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, cautioned that in the first wave of infections reported from a country, only the deaths may be being picked up and may therefore be overrepresented. "The virus may have been there for longer than we had previously suspected," he said.

Ryan said a WHO team would be arriving in Iran on Tuesday. A team arrived in Italy on Monday.

"What we don't understand yet in COVID-19 are the absolute transmission dynamics," Ryan said, noting that in China there's been a significant drop in cases. "That goes against the logic of pandemic."

Authorities in Iran closed schools across much of the country for a second day Monday. Movie theaters and other venues were shuttered through at least Friday, and daily sanitizing of public buses and the Tehran metro, which is used by some 3 million people, was begun.

Recognition grew that the virus was no longer stemming only from contact with infected people in China.

"Many different countries around the world may be sources of COVID-19 infections," said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. "This makes it much harder for any one country to detect and contain."

China still has the vast majority of cases, but as it records lower levels of new infections, attention has shifted to new fronts in the outbreak. Chief among them is South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in placed the country under a red alert, the highest level, allowing for "unprecedented, powerful steps" to stem the crisis.

Beyond expanding a delay to the start of the school year from the hardest-hit area of Daegu nationwide, though, it remains to be seen how far the government will go. A Chinese-style lockdown of Daegu — a city of 2.5 million people that is the country's fourth largest — appeared unlikely, even as signs of the response to a broadening problem could be seen nearly everywhere in the nation.

More than 600 police officers in Daegu fanned out in search of hundreds of members of a church that has been identified as a source for hundreds of infections. The country's National Assembly was temporarily closed Monday as workers sterilized its halls. At shops and food stalls in Seoul, the capital, a misty fog surrounded crews in protective suits who sprayed disinfectants.

"The changes have been dramatic," said Daegu resident Nah Young-jo, who described an increasingly empty city, with few passersby and closed restaurants.

South Korean officials recommended that courts consider postponing trials of cases not deemed urgent, while Mayor Park Wonsoon of Seoul threatened tough penalties for those who defy a ban on rallies in major downtown areas.

Health workers said they planned to test every citizen in Daegu who showed coldlike symptoms, estimating that around 28,000 people would be targeted.

In Italy, where 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.

Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy. Slovenia and Croatia, popular getaways for Italians, were holding crisis meetings. Schools were closed, theater performances were canceled and even Carnival celebrations in Venice were called off.

It was a sign of how quickly circumstances could change in the widening COVID-19 scare. Italy had imposed more stringent measures than other European countries after the outbreak began, barring flights beginning Jan. 31 to and from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Until last week, Italy had reported just three cases of infection.

"We need to take this situation of course very seriously," said Stella Kyriakides, the health commissioner for the European Union, "but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation."

China reported 409 new cases of the illness Monday, raising the mainland's total to 77,150. It also announced 150 new deaths for a 2,592 total.

Dr. Liang Wannian, the leader of a team of Chinese experts working with WHO to study the outbreak, said more than 3,000 medical workers had been infected, the majority of them in Wuhan.

Grace: How this Omaha native tells stories with black marker and a camera

One by one, the schoolchildren stepped in front of Robert X. Fogarty’s lens, eager to show the photographer their stories.

Fogarty had told them about his company, “Dear World.” He’d described its mission: telling personal stories through arresting portraits that feature words written in black marker on subjects’ arms, necks, chests and even faces.


George Richard, a kindergartner at St. Cecilia’s, was photographed as part of the Dear World project.

“Everyone has a story they can tell,” the 36-year-old Fogarty, an Omaha native and St. Cecilia Cathedral Grade School graduate told a gym full of uniformed schoolchildren last week. “We’re listening.”

The exercise was one of self-discovery: It forced children from prekindergarten to eighth grade to really think about the words or phrases that most suited who they were. It was one of affirmation: Each stood a little taller as he or she hopped on a three-inch small wooden stage in the warm glow of the camera lights with teachers, the principal and some parents and their classmates cheering them on. They could see the beauty and power within themselves and each other. Finally, it was also a lesson in becoming.

This was no career day talk, but it might have been. Fogarty showed the children a picture of a blond, tousled-hair boy wearing a very familiar red sweater with white crest, a school uniform holdover that the kids still wear today. He was that boy. Now he is a grown-up with a company and an affiliated nonprofit. He gets paid to tell stories.

These stories celebrate human life around the world, and Fogarty shared some of them on Thursday. Here was a man who posed with the words “CANCER FREE” on his chest. Here was a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who lost her legs in that terrorist attack but described herself as “STILL STANDING.” Then came the 11-year-old Syrian girl whose facial burns make her look much older with her inner desire written in Arabic on a forearm, “I want the life I had back.”

The messages include lighter fare, such as the young man whose arms say: “I took the chicken out of the freezer.” The kids giggled at this. Fogarty explained: As a boy, the photo subject played video games for hours and often forgot his working mother’s request to take the night’s dinner ingredients out of the freezer so they could thaw in time for her to cook. In graduating from college, he wrote the chicken message for his mom — a symbol that he could, finally, follow through.


Celeste Corcoran is a Boston Marathon bombing survivor. She appeared in this Dear World photo in 2015.

It might seem gimmicky: Black marker letters on skin saying something profound or silly or mysterious. It might seem like a trend that was hot for a minute and then, like the dry erase markers used in these photographs, all-too temporary. The marker, like a lot of trends, just rubs off.

But the company has lasted nine years. Fogarty and his staff have photographed 150,000 people — from employees at large corporations that hire Dear World for team-building exercises to refugees across the world. His company’s success speaks to the lasting power of personal stories.

I got to witness this as mother of three of Dear World’s latest subjects. My children attend St. Cecilia’s, where Fogarty completed the eighth grade in 1997. Fogarty’s parents, Ed and stepmother Joni, will be honored by the school and parish during its upcoming annual gala, and these portraits of children will be offered (for sale) to parents. Fogarty donated his time and equipment as a way to give back to a place where his own personal story is rooted.

Like all personal stories, Fogarty’s has ups and downs. He runs a successful business. He’s traveled the world. He appears to be happy, grounded and grateful in an accidental career.

But his downs are big: He lost his mother and a brother to suicide. And he experienced such deep depression he had to leave New York City, his home after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon, and return to Omaha to heal. His father nursed him back to health and then said: Where to next?

Fogarty chose New Orleans. His final year of journalism school, 2005, was the year Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Fogarty knew nothing about the Crescent City other than he was captivated by the resilience of the people, the geography and the way he felt it was maligned by government and the news media. He was stirred by then-Mayor Ray Nagin’s admonition to come and help. In 2007, Fogarty did.

Through the U.S. public service program AmeriCorps, Fogarty worked for City Hall. Fogarty’s job was to help coordinate all the volunteer groups still pouring into the city to help. He earned a yearly stipend of $10,000 and lived in a dorm on the Tulane University campus.

The work gave him purpose. The city gave him life.

“I was not the kid who volunteered for things,” Fogarty said as he snapped photos inside the St. Cecilia gym. “New Orleans was the first time in my life where I realized what it meant to serve others. And heal yourself.”

In late 2009, as it appeared that the New Orleans Saints would play in the Super Bowl, Fogarty and a friend had an idea. They could sense momentum for the city, a ray of hope and a chance to capture that. They asked photo subjects to distill what they most loved about the Crescent City into a few words and write those in marker on their bodies. On Super Bowl game day, Fogarty set up his camera in the back of a bar watch party and got to work. He called this “Dear New Orleans.”

The project took off. Fogarty realized that there was a market for self-expression beyond New Orleans. He expanded his focus and started Dear World. An affiliated nonprofit allows him to photograph people in war zones and refugee camps in an effort to tell their stories.

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In Omaha last week, Fogarty didn’t share the sad stuff about his mother Mary Beth’s death in 2002 or his brother Zach’s death in 2015.

Instead, wearing black Nike sneakers and a wide, puckish smile, the photographer and storyteller led the children through some simple directions. First, don’t misspell words. If you have any questions about spelling, ask. Second, don’t frown. Be proud, he said. Smile.

He showed the photo of the Syrian girl — a child just like them who has it much worse. He reminded them of what is good in their lives.

“What an incredible gift we have, to be here today with the people who love us,” he said.

Then he got to work.

What I observed next was magical.

First, the prekindergartners who all shared the same word, Peace. They giggled as teachers and parents wrote the letters on their skin. They posed adorably and pranced off the stage when done. Then came the eighth grade, 13- and 14-year-olds in the throes of self-identity. Their messages were poignant: Black is beautiful. Never give up. Look Mom, I can fly. And on my own daughter, Persevere.


Val Sewell, an eighth grader at St. Cecilia’s, wore the name of a classmate who died several years ago as part of the Dear World photo shoot.

This class later came together for a group photo. They’d lost a classmate who had drowned in a backyard swimming pool in 2017. So on their necks, each wrote: “For William.”

It was striking to watch the parade of students glow in front of the camera. They were excited about the project. Proud.

One 5-year-old, his light blue shirt untucked and the knees of his blue uniform pants showing their wear, held up both hands to Fogarty’s camera. On them he’d written one word, “BUILD.”

It was impossible not to wonder what little Will Campbell would build in his future.

Check out World-Herald columnist Erin Grace's series 'Anatomy of a Shooting'