The Gun Debate in Nebraska

Craig Schneider, a firearms instructor for 35 years, shoots a 9 mm pistol at Thunder Alley shooting range in Lincoln (photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
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February 21, 2013 - 6:30am

In the wake of several recent mass shootings, the topic of gun control is once again at the forefront in politics.  Gun rights advocates are quick to point out things like traffic accidents, medical mistakes, and accidental falls all kill more people than guns.  Some who support increased gun control measures say we need to focus on building a sense of community.


On a brisk January afternoon, around half a dozen people ambled about Nebraska Gun, a privately owned and federally licensed firearms dealer located just a few blocks from downtown Lincoln.

Inside the blue building, shelves are lined with an assortment of shotguns, hunting rifles, pistols, ammunition and other gun related merchandise.

While sales are steady, store owner Jeff McIntyre says he’s having trouble stocking some items. In particular, assault weapons.

“This is the busiest we’ve been in seven years,” McIntyre said. “Most people are concerned there’s going to be legislation that might prevent them from owning certain guns in the future, so they’re buying them now before they can’t get them.”

Photo Courtesy of Subtlemd, Flickr.com

An AR-15 style rifle is a civilian version of the military's M4 and M16 rifles. This AR-15 shoots .223 caliber bullets, and is one of the most popular semi-automatic rifles in the United States. It is also on the list of banned weapons in a bill proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein of California.

Photo Courtesy of e53, Flickr.com

Another AR-15 style rifle with several modifications, including an adjustable stock, pistol grip, forward grip, and improved optics. All of the modifications would be considered "military features" and banned under Senator Diane Feinstein's Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. Critics of the bill argue the modifications do not change how the gun fires, only how it looks.

In response to recent mass shootings, Senator Diane Feinstein, a democrat from California, authored a bill (the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013) which proposes to stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The bill classifies “high-capacity” as any magazine which holds more than 10 rounds.

Critics of the potential ban say the difference between an assault weapon and hunting rifle is purely aesthetic. They say the different “military type” features which would render a gun illegal under the ban don’t actually affect the way the gun fires.

The bill, however, is receiving support from some top officials in Washington.

At a January press conference on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama, a staunch supporter of Feinstein’s proposed ban, said he would use the full weight of his office to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

While addressing news reporters, activists, and families of victims of shooting violence, President Obama said, “While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy or every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

In Nebraska, about a dozen bills concerning firearms have been introduced this legislative cycle. One bill, LB 602, seeks to exempt Nebraskans' firearms from federal bans. Another, LB 148, would extend the prohibitions on felons from owning or possessing a gun to owning or possessing ammunition as well.

Gun rights supporters say they’re wary of any additional laws which, in their opinion, would restrict Second Amendment rights

On January 19, just days after President Obama’s press conference, hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol for Gun Appreciation Day. The event in Lincoln was just one of many pro-gun rallies held throughout the country that day.

Steven, a Lincoln protester who didn’t want to give his last name, said the push to ban assault weapons amounts to nothing more than a campaign based on fear.

“[Gun control advocates are], for some reason, afraid of a right that guarantees personal protection,” Steven said. “There’s no reason to fear something that you already have. It seems kind of self-destructive I would say.”

The fear certain guns may be banned has contributed to potentially record sales in the gun market. The FBI reports in December and January, they ran more background checks on people wanting to purchase a firearm than ever before.

Photo by Hillary Stohs-Krause, NET News

Protesters gather on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln on January 19 as part of the first annual Gun Appreciation Day held at state capitols across the nation.

The National Rifle Association is also reporting record membership growth in the last two months.

However, there is no way of knowing exactly how many guns have been sold in Nebraska during that time. Not every background check results in a sale, and not every sale starts with a background check. Still, some local gun experts say they’ve seen a definite boom in the gun trade.

Craig Schneider has been a firearms instructor in Lincoln for 35 years.

He says since the birth of the nation Americans have loved their firearms; and according to him, they always will.

In a tightly packed room at Thunder Alley, a shooting range and gun store in Lincoln, Schneider instructs classes for people trying to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Schneider says his teaching schedule is usually steady, but lately his classes are consistently filled to capacity. Schneider says he’s also seen a spike in the number of women enrolled in his classes.

According to Schneider, the increase in gun sales and the number of people applying for their concealed carry permit shows Nebraskans feel a need to protect themselves.

“Let’s be realistic right now. With the budget situations the way they are, law enforcement is stretched. There’s not as many out there,” Schneider explained. “Prisons are over-flowing, people are being released before they should, in my opinion. So personal responsibility and personal protection is on the individual.”

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Craig Schneider instructs a class of adults applying for their permit to carry a concealed weapon. Nebraska law stipulates in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the applicant must complete a course which includes both classroom instruction and time spent on the shooting range.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Craig Schneider displaying the pattern of shot placement after time spent on the shooting range at Thunder Alley in Lincoln.

“I just recently put in my registration for a concealed carry permit, and I wanted to have a gun. Pretty much that’s it,” said another Nebraska man who wants to remain anonymous.

He’s a public school teacher and proud gun owner. As a teacher, he says it’s his responsibility to protect his students, but he wonders how effective he can be at doing that if schools remain gun-free zones.     

“If anything like Connecticut were to happen in a school, I would defend my students to my death to protect them, but if I don’t have anything like [a gun] to protect myself, once I die, what’s to stop [a shooter] from shooting my students?” he said. “If they don’t have the remorse to feel pain from shooting somebody, they’re just going to keep going.”

While the debate continues of whether or not gun control works to stop violence, one Lincoln man is taking an alternate approach to the gun control issue, advocating for Americans to develop a new ethos towards guns and violence.

Paul Olson is the former president of Nebraskans for Peace, and said western culture idealizes the concept of salvation through violence. He cited examples from western literature, of cowboy gunslingers using six shooters to rid towns of evil doers. Olson said until society changes the way it regards guns and violence, the fight over gun control will remain stagnant.

“What we can try to do is create a sense of community where we care for each other, where we solve problems through discourse and mediation and those kinds of things, and where the alternatives are not glorified and where the use of alternatives through weapons is not immediately accessible,” Olson said.

A concept of community which both advocates of gun rights and gun control say they’re aiming for.

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