By ZACH WENDLING
LINCOLN — A woman who protested the approval of “constitutional carry” in the state will no longer be allowed in the Nebraska State Capitol or its grounds, except in select circumstances.
Melody Vaccaro, executive director of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, shouted “Shame!” multiple times immediately after senators voted Wednesday to approve Legislative Bill 77, proposed by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. The proposal, approved 33-14, is Brewer’s long-fought effort to remove permit and training requirements for concealed carry of a handgun.
Vaccaro told the Nebraska Examiner she was asked to leave the Capitol, and Nebraska State Patrol served her with a “banned and barred” notice, restricting access except for “scheduled appointments.”
“I would understand when you make an outburst — spirit takes you and you make an outburst — of course, they’re going to escort you out and you’re going to have to leave,” Vaccaro said. “That seems pretty reasonable.”
But what followed was not reasonable, Vaccaro said, and she is “still reconciling” herself to the “banned and barred” notice. She said it takes away her First Amendment rights and restricts her access to legislative or other government proceedings. Vaccaro said the notice also does not include an appeal process.
She said other members of the public, who have openly carried AR-15s in the Capitol or threatened senators, have not been given similar restrictions.
The one-page notice from the State Patrol allows Vaccaro to schedule an appointment in order to go to the Capitol and does not list the reasons that led to the notice.
The Patrol, which has the “primary responsibility” of security needs in the Capitol, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Brewer told the Examiner that nobody in his seven years as a legislator has ever behaved in a similar manner from the balcony. He said Vaccaro’s outburst differs from visitors clapping or mumbling, which has happened this session.
He said the public’s behavior is critical to the ability of the body to function, “and you may not like what we do, but it’s not your place to cause it to be disrupted.”
“I think that was appropriate,” he said of the “banned and barred” notice. “If you don’t do that, it degrades into a situation where you don’t have a Legislature anymore, you have kind of a madhouse. … I think you behave poorly, bad things happen.”
In the future, if Vaccaro wishes to go to the Capitol, she must coordinate with NSP Capitol Security Communications at least one day prior to make arrangements.
A Class III misdemeanor is punishable by up to three months in jail, a $500 fine, or both. Punishment for a Class II is up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.
Vaccaro said she had watched the two hours of allotted debate on LB 77. During the debate, fourth graders and other school-aged children were visiting the Capitol, coming and going from the chamber. This, she added, made her think about school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, and the rate of gun deaths for children.
“It’s so shameful,” Vaccaro said. “It’s so dark and morally corrupt, and I just was aghast.”
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue said on the floor that she does not approve of similar actions in the balcony, though she can understand “guttural reactions” to legislation.
“We have to remember that they’re human and that they’re Nebraskans,” Blood said. “And that’s not a direct threat.”
To Vaccaro, Wednesday’s actions follow a string of “silencing” Nebraskans this session, including limiting public testimony or how many questions senators may ask at hearings.
“I just think this is kind of the new norm that we’re under,” Vaccaro said. “This is the new Legislature, and I think it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse.”