Wednesday, March 01, 2006

GOP Senators in Conceal & Carry Crosshairs

by Kyle Michaelis
The front-page story in Tuesday's Omaha World-Herald suggests that the Nebraska Republican Party has been putting unexpected and unwelcome pressure on a group of state senators, playing the "R" card despite the legislature's being a non-partisan body over the supremely important, life-or-death issue of whether Nebraskans will be allowed to play "Cowboys and Indians" all-day/everyday carrying a concealed weapon.

The World-Herald reports:
State Sen. Jeanne Combs of Milligan, sponsor of a bill to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed handguns, has asked the state Republican Party to tone down its pressure on lawmakers when her bill next hits the legislative agenda.

The Nebraska GOP ruffled some lawmakers' feathers when it put out a letter last month urging lawmakers to advance Combs' bill, which is part of the party's platform.

The letter identified, by name, six lawmakers as being "swing" votes on the concealed handgun issue.

State Sen. Don Pederson of North Platte, one of those named, publicly criticized the effort and abstained from voting on the measure because of it.

"I feel very strongly about this being a nonpartisan body," Pederson said Monday. "I resent any political party interfering with that. And I didn't buy . . . that concealed carry is a 'core' Republican belief."

Combs and Republican Party Chairman Mark Quandahl said they talked it over and decided that no further action was needed from the party....

Legislative Bill 454 received initial approval 33-11, after a vote to cut off a filibuster by its opponents, including State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

It is not yet known when the Legislature will take up second round debate on the measure, which is expected to spark another filibuster as days run short in the 2006 session, which ends April 12....

Republican officials admitted that their push on the concealed handgun measure was unprecedented.

"This may be the most comprehensive action we've been involved in, partly due to the leadership of Chairman Quandahl," said Jessica Moenning, the party's executive director...

In its Jan. 6 letter to Republican lawmakers, Quandahl said the party had begun a reorganization of its members at the grass-roots level and had recruited hundreds to become active in the political and electoral process. The Second Amendment Coalition is "our largest and most enthusiastic," he wrote.

"I think it is important for you to consider that LB 454 strikes at the very core of what we stand for, reflects the common-sense values rooted in Nebraskans everywhere, and is in accordance with both our state and national party platform," the letter said.

State Sen. Mick Mines of Blair, a Republican, wrote back that the party's e-mail alerts offended him and only strengthened his opposition to the concealed weapons bill.

"I am concerned that my party would resort to this kind of cheap-shot politics against longtime and loyal Republicans," he wrote. "Especially over a second-tier issue like concealed carry weapons."

Looks like someone's messed-up priorities are showing. While advocates against Conceal & Carry certainly have a tendency to blow its dangers out of proportion, that this incredibly inconsequential and generally childish measure should be declared "a core Republican belief" is just pathetic. When they go on to write that it reflects Nebraka's common-sense values, I'm actually afraid they might have ruined that phrase for me forever.

If common sense values extend to such trite and meaningless domains - inspired by unfounded fears of danger that are most likely to prove self-fulfilling - then we Nebraskans seriously need to be looking for a new approach.

From the disdainful response of Senators Pederson and Mines, it seems safe to assume GOP pressure must have gone farther than the e-mail referenced above. As is, I can't imagine anything unprecedented about these efforts beyond the Republican Party's blatant and sad declaration of total ideological slavery to the whims - not the rights - of an elite group of gun fanatics whose highest priority is defending a constitutional freedom to stand at either end of a gun barrel.

Ask and ye shall receive? Or, in other words, live by the NRA, die by the NRA....

Alas, there's a world of difference between responsible gun ownership and those who confuse gun ownership alone for their highest responsibility. The Republican Party can define itself on this issue however it pleases, but I'll be damned if being a Nebraskan has a thing to do with thinking you're Wyatt Earp.

After all, God created Texas for such silliness, didn't (s)he?


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