(The Nebraska Examiner)—Nebraska gun owners sued the Cities of Omaha and Lincoln on Monday after telling city leaders this fall that enacting new local gun-related restrictions risked violating a new state law and their constitutional rights.
The Nebraska Firearms Owners Association filed district court lawsuits in Douglas and Lancaster Counties alleging the mayors of Omaha and Lincoln went too far in issuing executive orders prohibiting concealed weapons on most public property.
The group is seeking preliminary injunctions allowing concealed handguns to be carried in public spaces, while two judges decide whether to grant the broader declaratory judgments the gun owners seek.
The Omaha lawsuit also targets the city’s ban on bump stocks and on online kits used to build homemade guns, saying the ban violated Legislative Bill 77, which allows concealed carry of handguns without a permit or training.
A section of LB 77 sharply curbed the authority of cities governed by home-rule charters to restrict guns more stringently than the state. Both Omaha and Lincoln had used that local control in the past to regulate guns and gang violence.
That part says: “Counties, cities, and villages shall not have the power to: a. Regulate the ownership, possession, storage, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms or other weapons, except as expressly provided by state law.”
Omaha City Attorney Matt Kuhse said the city would “defend the ability of municipalities, such as Omaha, to protect the safety and health of its citizens within the bounds of the law.” The City of Lincoln had no immediate comment.
“LB 77 specifically grants cities, such as Omaha, the power to prohibit the possession of concealed firearms on the premises and places under its control with conspicuous notice,” Kuhse said in a statement. “The term ‘premises and places’ is the language drafted by the Legislature, not by the City of Omaha.”
Cities Responded to LB 77
After the bill passed, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird issued executive orders restricting concealed handgun possession in many public buildings and outdoor spaces, including parks, trails and sidewalks.
The two cities have defended the orders as allowed by LB 77’s carve-out for property owners and renters to restrict guns on the properties they control. Both mayors have said their actions were focused on protecting public safety.
Kuhse argued that Stothert followed the law in issuing the executive order and “did not create a new offense,” or crime. She “directed those departments within the executive branch to place conspicuous signs on cIty owned and controlled property.”
On Monday, State Sen. Tom Brewer, who sponsored LB 77, said he thinks “things are about to get expensive for Lincoln and Omaha.”
The lawsuits argue that the executive orders violate state law and that the mayors violated the constitutional separations of power by making law on their own. The Omaha lawsuit says, “State law preempts both the executive order and the new ordinances.”
Attorney General Issued Opinion
Much of the argument against the orders mirrors the opinion issued Friday by Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers describing the orders’ outdoor restrictions as illegal. The lawsuits mentioned the AG’s opinion.
Patricia Harrold, who testified Oct. 31 against an Omaha City Council resolution supporting Stothert’s order and against ordinances regulating bump stocks and possessing gun kits, said she was “proud” to help gun owners defend their legal rights.
“We did spend quite a bit of time trying to communicate and educate Lincoln and Omaha well before LB 77 was signed into law,” she said. “It became apparent to us that they weren’t willing to listen. We were very disappointed.”
The lawsuit is being managed by Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which works on cases involving gun-rights, property rights and free speech rights, among others.
Terry Fitzgerald, one of several plaintiffs named, said in the lawsuit that he often walked through neighborhood parks, around lakes and trails “carrying his concealed weapon.” He said he stays away now because he cannot defend himself.
Opponents of allowing more guns in public spaces had pleaded with the mayors and city councils to do something to reduce the number of guns in shared spaces.
Jen Hodge of the Nebraska chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for gun regulation, described the lawsuits as stunts meant to take advantage of a “political window” created by the attorney general’s opinion, which she described as “incredibly dangerous.”
“Coupled with the state’s preemption law, which limits what cities can do to address unregulated concealed weapons, gun rights extremists in Nebraska continue to put politics over the safety of our communities,” she said.