LINCOLN — A state lawmaker will take a shot — perhaps a long shot — at banning bump fire stocks and gun silencers in Nebraska.
A rare gun control measure in a conservative state where proposals usually try to expand Second Amendment rights was among the 119 bills introduced Wednesday on the first day of the 2018 Nebraska Legislature. The 49 state senators will meet for a 60-day session scheduled to conclude April 18.
The opening day proceedings were marked by pomp, circumstance and lots of smartphone photos of senators with their families.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s nice to have it be official and get started,” said Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, who was appointed to her Omaha district in October to finish the term of a senator who resigned.
But it didn’t take long Wednesday before a controversial proposal hit the bill hopper.
Legislative Bill 780 targets bump stocks, which gained notoriety last fall when they were used by a gunman to spray bullets into an outdoor concert crowd in Las Vegas. The gunfire killed 58 and wounded hundreds.
The after-market devices allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired nearly as rapidly as automatic guns. Semi-automatics fire a single shot with each trigger pull, while depressing the trigger of an automatic allows a burst of shots to be fired.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, said she believes that the state would be safer if it banned a device that enables mass shooters to increase their rate of fire. The senator, a Democrat, noted that she is entering the final year of her first term.
“If I’m not re-elected, I think I would walk away from here thinking, ‘You did nothing about the proliferation of guns in your community,’ ” she said Wednesday.
The bill calls bump stocks by their technical name: “multiburst trigger activators.” It also seeks to ban silencers, a different accessory attached to a gun’s muzzle that reduces the noise of firing.
The bill makes the manufacturing, sale, purchase or possession of bump stocks and silencers a class IV felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a year of post-release supervision.
Officials with two gun-rights organization said Wednesday that their groups will fight both provisions of the bill. Rod Moeller of the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association said his group cannot support any attempt to regulate gun accessories.
“We’re opposed to it no matter what,” he said.
Catherine Mortensen, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Virginia, said her organization believes devices allowing semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulation. Bump fire stocks are an example of such a device.
Deciding the extent of such regulations should be left to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, she argued.
“We oppose any legislation to ban bump stocks,” she said.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, a gun-rights advocate and a competitive shooter, said he would oppose a ban on silencers. The devices, already heavily regulated under federal law, allow target shooters and hunters to fire their guns without having to always use hearing protection.
Brewer said he wants to study the legislation, but he would not necessarily oppose greater restrictions on bump stocks. Some shooters regard bump stocks as a gimmick that reduces the ability to shoot accurately and wastes ammunition.
Another gun-related bill was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha.
LB 730 would impose a 10 percent excise tax on ammunition sales, with half of the proceeds going to a state wildlife conservation fund and the other half going to the violence prevention fund. Wayne said the proposal is similar to legislation in other states and could benefit both urban and rural areas.
The firearm owners group opposes that measure as well, Moeller said, regarding it as an unjust tax on law-abiding gun owners.
Gun-control measures typically face tough odds in the Nebraska Legislature, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1. But in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, bump stocks became the focus of greater regulation by state and local governments. Some national retailers also quit selling the devices after the mass killing.
The ATF recently announced that it will review its analysis of bump stocks to determine whether they should be more tightly regulated.
In November, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to ban bump stocks since the Nevada mass shooting. A few other states either ban bump stocks or devices that allow guns to be fired automatically.
World-Herald staff writers Martha Stoddard and Emily Nitcher contributed to this report.