(The Daily Caller)—Earlier this year, Nebraska became the 27th state to enact “constitutional carry,” allowing people to carry a firearm, open or concealed, without a permit from the government.
To protect the right to bear arms statewide, the state legislature also banned local governments from enacting any regulations on firearms, except as expressly allowed by state law. And it declared all existing local firearms regulations null and void.
When the bill took effect in September, the mayors of Omaha and Lincoln promptly responded by imposing firearms restrictions anyway. They signed executive orders banning firearms on city property—not just city buildings, but virtually all public property including parks, hiking trails, and even sidewalks. They also threatened violators with criminal penalties.
Omaha’s City Council went further and passed bans on “ghost gun” parts and bump stocks. And the Lincoln City Council has kept its many existing weapons laws on the books.
What to do when officials so brazenly violate the law and people’s constitutional rights?
You sue them. So we did.
Last week the Liberty Justice Center, the public-interest law firm I work for, filed lawsuits against the cities and their mayors on behalf of the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association and several of its members whose rights are being violated by this law.
And it is a serious violation of their rights. The cities’ gun bans aren’t a minor inconvenience; they’re forcing people to change how they live their lives. They could also cost lives, by depriving law-abiding citizens of their ability to defend themselves.
Many of our clients, and countless other Nebraskans, carry a firearm at all times to be prepared to defend themselves and others. They’ve always lawfully carried a gun when taking their families for walks, to city parks, and on city hiking trails. That was legal under the state’s concealed carry law, before the new constitutional carry bill and the mayors’ orders. Now they’re forced to choose between avoiding those places, leaving their guns at home (they can’t leave them locked in the car in a city parking lot because that’s banned, too), or risking criminal prosecution by breaking the law. And “avoiding those places” can simply mean not walking through the city with a gun at all—and not being able to exercise the right to bear arms in public at all—because that could involve walking on sidewalks that go by or through a park or other city property.
Talk about blatant government overreach. Lincoln and Omaha are ignoring both the state law and the Constitution, and they need to be stopped.
Also, some of our clients have long enjoyed making their own guns as a hobby. Now that’s illegal in Omaha. Who benefits? No one—hobbyists aren’t a threat to anyone, and anyone who would want to make a ghost gun to commit a crime wouldn’t be deterred by the city’s extra penalties.
Fortunately, this should all go away soon. The legal argument in these lawsuits is simple: the state abolished local firearms regulations; these cities enacted them anyway—therefore, the cities’ regulations are illegal.
Nebraska’s Attorney General, Michael Hilgers, agrees. Last week, he issued an official opinion explaining that the mayors’ orders violate not only state law but also the Second Amendment right to bear arms. And there’s yet another legal problem with the mayors’ orders: these mayors don’t have the authority to make law. Even if the state hadn’t abolished local firearms laws, mayors still couldn’t issue orders denying people their right to bear arms in places like parks and sidewalks. Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 experience, many executive officials seem to think they can rule by decree.
But we have courts to put them in their place. We look forward to giving the Nebraska courts that opportunity and restoring Nebraskans’ rights under the Constitution and state law.
Jacob Huebert is President of the Liberty Justice Center, the public-interest law firm representing the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association and several of its members in their lawsuits against the cities of Omaha and Lincoln.