Nebraska would become one of the last Republican-led states to enact a so-called “stand your ground” law under a bill presented to a legislative committee on Thursday.
State Sen. Brian Hardin, of Scottsbluff, said he brought the bill at the urging of his constituents and to keep residents who use deadly force while defending themselves from facing prosecution.
“This bill would ensure that we’re not revictimizing a person who’s already been a victim of a crime,” Hardin said. “It should be difficult to put someone in jail who was protecting himself.”
Nebraska is among a handful of states where the law says a person has a duty to retreat from threat if they can do so safely before using deadly force, with the exception of a person’s home or workplace. Thirty-eight states — including all six of Nebraska’s neighboring states — have stand your ground laws.
The concept came under national scrutiny in the 2012 fatal shooting of a Black teenager from Florida, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch volunteer who was following him. The volunteer, George Zimmerman, was later acquitted after a trial in which his attorneys essentially used the law as a defense.
Critics have labeled the measure as a “shoot first” law and argue it makes it easier for a person to shoot someone and avoid prosecution by saying they felt threatened. Some prosecutors have complained that the laws have increasingly placed the burden on them to prove self-defense did not occur by defendants making a stand your ground defense.
The top prosecutor for Nebraska’s most populous county, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, was the first of several people who testified against Hardin’s bill Thursday, saying that the state’s current law already allows latitude for those who are threatened with imminent harm.
“Obviously, if someone points a gun at you, you don’t even have to think about that,” he said. “Of course you can defend yourself. I think this law change is unnecessary.”
While several people and groups, including the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association and Women for Gun Rights, testified in favor of the bill, others opposed it, citing several high-profile cases across the nation in the last decade that have called stand your ground laws into question. They included the 2020 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the shooting last year in Kansas City, Missouri, that injured 17-year-old Ralph Yarl.
The two Black males were doing everyday tasks — Arbery was jogging and Yarl was knocking on the door of a home where he thought his brother was visiting — when they were shot by white men who later claimed they did so because they felt threatened.
The Nebraska bill comes at a time when GOP-led state legislatures across the country are embracing bills expanding gun rights. Last year, Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill allowing residents to carry concealed guns without a permit. Under the so-called “constitutional carry” law, people can carry guns hidden in their clothing or vehicle without having to pay for a government permit or take a gun safety course.