Neo-Nazi to continue fight for gun permit denied because of crime abroad

Monday, August 9, 1999

A neo-Nazi in Nebraska has lost another round in his battle to secure a handgun permit from the local police department.

But Lincoln resident Gary Lauck says he'll keep fighting. He contends that he's being denied the permit because of a felony he committed in Germany — even though his crime abroad wouldn't be a crime in the United States.

Lauck applied for a handgun permit in June, but the police department denied his request. Police Chief Tom Casady cited federal and state laws that prohibit gun permits for citizens who have “been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”

Beginning in 1995, Lauck, a U.S. citizen, served four years in a German prison for spreading neo-Nazi propaganda in violation of German law.

His actions were prohibited by the German Constitution, which limits freedom of speech in an effort to prevent a resurgence of Nazism. But Lauck's felony in Europe would not have been a crime in the United States under the First Amendment.

The rejection of Lauck's permit application raises uncomfortable questions for people who find themselves caught between a respect for free speech and a desire for gun control — especially in the aftermath of the July shootings in Illinois that were said to be triggered by racism and anti-Semitism.

Lauck filed suit in the case, saying that he was being punished for actions in another country that would be protected under the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause. But on July 30, the Lancaster County Court ruled against Lauck.

Judge Gale Pokorny wrote in his ruling that the police chief “did not err nor abuse his discretion” in rejecting Lauck's June 25 application.

The executive director of the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Matt LeMieux, is dissatisfied with the ruling.

“It is absolutely unreasonable to base a denial of a gun permit on protected speech,” he said LeMieux and D. Kirk Wolgamott, another ACLU attorney, are representing Lauck.

Wolgamott said that Lauck “was treated as a felon, when he feels that, due to the peculiarities of his German conviction, he shouldn't be deprived of his First Amendment rights.”

Richard Anderson, attorney for the police department, says he supports Lauck's right to express his neo-Nazi beliefs in public. But he says that hate speech, while constitutional, may be legitimate grounds on which to deny someone a gun permit.

“If you're preaching hate speech, you ought to be categorically denied the right to own a gun,” Anderson said. “That doesn't mean you should lose your right to preach hate.

“Gun control has to be divided from the First Amendment,” he said.

Pokorny's ruling did not address Lauck's free-speech arguments. Instead, Pokorny said Lauck lied on his permit application when he denied ever having been convicted of a crime. Pokorny added that Lauck's appeal would be better directed to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who has the power to grant exemptions from federal gun-control restrictions.

LeMieux said that the ACLU was uncertain whether this was the proper route to take, although he did plan to pursue the case.

“We're disappointed because [Pokorny] didn't address the First Amendment issues that we raised,” LeMieux said.

Casady says that regardless of the ruling, this case concerns important First Amendment issues. But he said that he denied the gun permit according to the law, not because of the content of Lauck's speech.

“I think Mr. Lauck has some legitimate concerns, but that's not the issue with the denial of the gun permit,” Casady said. “My job is to determine whether people meet the criteria of the statute or not. Mr. Lauck does not.”