Gov. Ricketts says he’s open to working on ‘stand your ground’ law in Nebraska

Gov. Ricketts says he’s open to working on ‘stand your ground’ law in Nebraska
Gov. Pete Ricketts (RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’s willing to work on passage of a “stand your ground” law in Nebraska.

On his monthly call-in show, the recently re-elected Republican governor told a caller from Omaha that he’d be open to working with a state legislator in introducing and passing such a law.

“I’d be willing to work with any senator looking to protect your Second Amendment rights,” Ricketts added, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” clause.

The caller said he’d recently been a victim of a break-in at his home, and complained that Nebraska’s current laws seem to protect a burglar more than a homeowner.

Current state law says a person has a duty to retreat and shouldn’t use deadly force unless absolutely necessary. At least 10 states have adopted “stand your ground” laws that provide immunity in the use of deadly force when someone unlawfully breaks into a home.

Attempts to pass laws similar to “stand your ground” have failed to advance in the Nebraska Legislature, most recently in 2015. They have been a top priority of the National Rifle Association, but opposed by handgun control groups.

Ricketts, who told the caller he is a gun owner, received a $2,500 political contribution from the NRA during his re-election campaign in 2018.

Melody Vacarro, with Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, said stand-your-ground laws endanger people rather than making them safer. She cited an American Bar Association study that found no link between such laws and decreases in burglaries or assaults, but they were associated with an increase in homicide.

“Stand-your-ground should be more rightly called ‘shoot first, think later,’” she said. “Ricketts expressed interest in this law because he is pandering to his base, not because he is trying to solve any of the state’s actual problems.”

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said Tuesday that there is no need for such a law in Nebraska. Current law, Pansing Brooks said, already allows someone who is threatened with imminent harm to defend themselves.

The governor spoke in May at the NRA’s annual convention. He said that taking away gun rights is not the answer to mass shootings at schools and other locations, and that instead, better law enforcement and mental health care are needed.

Ricketts said the NRA had been “vilified and unfairly attacked” in the debate over how to prevent such massacres.

The state has at least one stand your ground-related case in court right now.

In Hebron, a local homeowner, Michael Lewis, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree assault and use of a firearm to commit a felony in relation to the shooting and wounding of a man who he alleges was trying to break into his house.

According to court records, Reuben Elting was shot at Lewis’ home in the early morning hours of Oct. 27.

The incident began when Elting’s brother, Remington, pounded on the back door of the Lewis home about 3:30 a.m., those records say. A struggle ensued after Lewis answered the door. Remington Elting was shot, and was later pronounced dead.

Lewis told investigators that he shot Reuben Elting as he ran around the house toward him after the initial shooting, according to court records; he said he didn’t mean to shoot Reuben Elting, but he had ignored his shouts to stop.

The Eltings, and a third man, according to court records, had come to Lewis’ home in Hebron following an altercation earlier that night at a party in Davenport, Nebraska. Lewis told investigators he had fired a gun twice into the air during a fight there.

No charges have been filed in connection with the death of Remington Elting. Thayer County Attorney Dan Werner said Tuesday he is awaiting more information before deciding if criminal charges are warranted.

World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.

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