- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska lawmaker known as a strong gun-rights advocate is pushing a bill that would prohibit governors from restricting firearm sales in a state emergency.

The measure by Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial would prevent governors from limiting the sale or transport of firearms after a natural disaster. Christensen has picked the bill as his priority for the year, increasing the odds it will get debated before the session ends.

Christensen said he worked on the measure with the National Rifle Association, which has pushed successfully for similar “emergency powers” laws in 34 other states. Bills are currently pending in Iowa, Massachusetts, Colorado and Washington. Lawmakers in Georgia added such language to its sweeping new legislation approved this month that allows guns in bars, schools, restaurants, churches and airports.

States started passing the bills after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when New Orleans police confiscated hundreds of guns. Police said most of the confiscated firearms had been stolen or found in abandoned homes, but the NRA claimed police disarmed some people in the city.

“I don’t think anybody ever thought it would happen in the United States, but it has,” Christensen said. “People have become more conscious of it, and I think they understand the need. They want them to protect their property. Thugs don’t give up their guns. Innocent people will, because they obey the law. That’s why we need to protect the people.”

Current Nebraska law allows governors to restrict the sale, distribution and transportation of guns once a state emergency is declared. The power also extends to alcohol, explosives and combustibles, such as gasoline.

The bill advanced by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee would remove firearms from the list. Through its website, the NRA urged the public to contact Nebraska state senators and advocate for the proposal.

“The chaos and civil disorder that we witnessed in New Orleans confirmed gun owners’ worst fears,” said Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. “This might not be an issue currently, but we want to protect our right to bear arms over the long-term.”

The original bill would have banned any state or local official from confiscating legally held firearms and ammunition. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha ridiculed the proposal in a hearing last year, suggesting facetiously that Nebraska should also prohibit the government from confiscating knives, hammers and steel-toed boots.

“How about lawn trimmers?” Chambers asked. “How about sickles that you use to cut grass with? That’s what I use, by the way, and it would make a very effective weapon.”

Even if Nebraska officials wanted to seize guns, he said, doing so would prove impossible.

“You think there are enough men in the National Guard - men and women - to go to every house in Nebraska and take people’s guns?” Chambers asked. “Where would they put the guns if they took them? Would they drive down the street and take the guns and throw them all in a truck?”

Chambers said Friday that he didn’t plan to launch a full filibuster against the watered-down bill, because he wanted to focus his energy on other measures.

“This isn’t one that I would say is making a big blip,” he said.

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