“Talking life, death and guns”
May 5th, 2011
Omaha, NE – â€œTalking life, death and gunsâ€ with one of Nebraskaâ€™s most conservative senators. The Readerâ€™s Andrew Norman interviewed Mark Christensen of Imperial in southwest Nebraska, whoâ€™s become known for introducing bills that would allow deadly force to protect fetuses, teachers to pack heat in the classroom, and require Presidential candidates to show their birth certificates. Robyn Wisch caught up with Norman on the road for this feature report.
So tell us, why did you pick Mark Christensen for a profile story?
“Heâ€™s kind of a lightning rod and I think itâ€™s largely due to his choosing. He chooses bills, he pushes bills that are fairly extreme, even in Nebraska, and heâ€™s interesting.”
Two of Christensenâ€™s signature issues that have brought him a lot of attention in the Legislature and even some national attention are his efforts to expand gun rights and limit abortion.
“Right. I focused a lot of my interview on those two subjects, because they seem to be really near and dear to his heart, and heâ€™ll tell you the same thing. He was a born-again Christian as a child, and he was raised very conservatively in a town, in a community thatâ€™s 97% white.”
“He believes that life begins at conception, and he opposes abortion even in cases of rape. Heâ€™s also a big, big gun guy. Iâ€™ve been reporting in the Capitol, and you talk to other senators, and the first thing theyâ€™ll say about Christensen is â€˜oh, the gun guy, you know from Imperial.â€™ And heâ€™s earned that distinction; heâ€™s pushed a lot of bills that really go pretty far.”
One of his bills on gun rights followed the shootings at Millard South High School, which left an administrator dead. In his bill, Christensen pushed for teachers to be allowed to carry guns to school to protect themselves and end a shooting incident. Christensenâ€™s aide Dan Wiles opened the hearing in February with a statement from him:.
“As a society, how should we respond to such senseless violence? The way I see it, we usually respond in one of three ways: We either resign ourselves to the idea that this is just the way things are now, and do nothing, or we crack down by taking freedoms away, which usually affect law-abiding people the most, or we give people more freedom to defend themselves. Most of you know that the latter is how I lean.”
Another amendment supported by Mark Christensen would have protected Nebraskansâ€™ rights to hunt and fish; it would have put it into the constitution. Thatâ€™s one where opponents said there those rights were not under attack, and the proposal was going further than it needed to. Hereâ€™s Christensen explaining why he supported it.
â€œWhen we bring this issue forward, and we discuss it, it gets the press, it gets known around the state,â€ he said. â€œAnd people start understanding hey, the Legislature thought this was important. We better pay attention to whatâ€™s going on. Letâ€™s not be the sleeping dog that gets attacked, and weâ€™re trying to play catch up. Letâ€™s be proactive. Letâ€™s go after this.â€
That bill is advancing, but Christensen’s bill to arm teachers was strongly opposed. He has other controversial bills like one that wouldâ€™ve allowed someone to use deadly force to protect an unborn fetus, that one died in committee. And I thought it was interesting in your story, you write that his strategy may be to push to extremes to make progress in the middle. When you asked him about that, did he agree thatâ€™s how he would describe his strategy?
“He did agree to that, I asked him. It became clear that he was pushing so far to the edge with bills that never had a chance to get through, and he knew it. He knew his guns in schools bill was not going to go through. He knew his birther bill, the bill that would have required Presidential candidates and their parents to show the Secretary of State their birth certificates, had no chance. But he said his philosophy is if he can go after these big issues, and go to extremes to some degree – he didnâ€™t use that word – but it creates room in the middle for other senators to pick up the issue and maybe enact a bill that make some progress as he sees it, even if it doesnâ€™t go as far as he was aiming.”
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