‘That’s a Matter for the State’: Gun Advocacy Group Sues Omaha, Lincoln over Restrictions

December 20, 2023

Gun rights advocates will take Omaha and Lincoln to court over the right to bear arms on city property.

The lawsuit calls new ordinances unconstitutional, and it follows a similar opinion from Nebraska’s Attorney General.

“The law here is very straightforward,” Jacob Huebert with the Liberty Justice Center is talking about LB-77, Nebraska’s new constitutional carry law. “The state has passed a law that says that local governments cannot enact their own firearms restrictions, and Omaha and Lincoln have gone ahead and done that anyway.”

The law takes away local control, so Omaha responded with new rules, banning guns on city property, including parks and libraries.

Patricia Harrold, the president of the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, said that doesn’t sit well with gun owners.

“They want to be able to enjoy the parks and the trails and to walk freely through our cities with the ability in the event that the most unthinkable thing happens and they have seconds to respond to defend themselves, they’re equipped to do so,” Harrold said.

So, the NFOA filed a lawsuit against the city of Omaha, asking a judge to rule the ordinances void and put an injunction in place. Huebert said, “The state has decided that there are some public properties where it would be better to not allow people to carry firearms like courtrooms and jails. But what it has said is that is a matter for the state government to decide.”

It follows Attorney General Mike Hilger’s legal opinion released last week. He said it’s unlawful for cities to regulate gun possession in public spaces like parks, trails and sidewalks.

Omaha City Attorney Matt Kuhse said they’ll defend Omaha’s ability to protect citizens within the bounds of the law.

His statement reads:

“The Law Department has had the opportunity to review the opinion from Attorney General Mike Hilgers about the City of Omaha’s Executive Order regarding firearms on City-owned property.

“It is important to note that Attorney General Hilgers position on Omaha’s executive order is an opinion and not binding on the City of Omaha. However, his analysis and the position he articulates in his opinion deserves to be considered.

“When the legislature passed LB 77 earlier this year, cities, such as Omaha, were specifically given the authority to regulate the possession of firearms on places or premises owned or controlled by a city. The City of Omaha relied on this language, again, crafted by the Legislature, in preparing its executive order. If the Legislature did not intend to include such public spaces as parks, trails and sidewalks, then more precise language should have been used.

“The City of Omaha has an obligation to protect and promote the safety and well-being of all its citizens and that was the intent of the executive order.

“The Attorney General’s opinion does not take issue with the executive order being applied to libraries, community centers, pools and other City-owned property and facilities used and enjoyed by the public.

“In the coming days, Mayor Stothert will meet with the Law Department, Parks Department and the Omaha Police Department to discuss this opinion and decide on the best course of action that respects the law and focuses on public safety.”

As for LB-77, he says the law gives them the power to prohibit guns on city property with notice. He responded with this statement when questioned about the lawsuit:

“While the City of Omaha has not been served with the lawsuit filed today in Douglas County District Court, the Law Department is aware of its contents.

“This lawsuit seeks to declare two ordinances recently passed by the City Council as unconstitutional and in violation of LB 77. Also the lawsuit argues that Mayor Stothert’s executive order regarding firearms on premises and places controlled by the City is void.

“The City will defend this lawsuit and defend the ability of municipalities, such as Omaha, to protect the safety and health of its citizens within the bounds of the law.

“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. The term “premises and places” is the language drafted by the Legislature, not by the City of Omaha. LB 77 makes it a crime to possess a firearm where it is prohibited, not Mayor Stothert. In signing the executive order, the Mayor did not create a new offense, she simply directed those departments within the executive branch to place conspicuous signs on city owned and controlled property.

“Regarding the two ordinances about unfinished frames and receivers and trigger activators, LB 77 and constitutional concerns are not an issue. The City is not permitted to pass an ordinance regarding firearms. There is a specific legal definition of a firearm found in Nebraska law. Neither of these two ordinances deal with firearms because neither unfinished frames and receivers or trigger activators meet this definition.

“It is the duty of those who wrote LB 77 to draft a bill that reflects its intent. The legislature chose to allow cities the ability to prohibit firearms on its property and the legislature chose not to include firearm parts and accessories in LB 77.

“The City of Omaha will operate within the bounds of the law as written by the Legislature, as it did when the Mayor’s executive order was issued and when the City Council approved the two ordinances involved in this lawsuit.”

State Sen. Tom Brewer crafted LB-77. He applauds the lawsuit, saying:

“When the Legislature passed my LB 77, we meant what we said. Local executive orders and ordinances that prevent people from carrying guns for self-defense are illegal. I am optimistic that Nebraska courts will do the right thing and stop these illegal local gun control schemes. The Legislature did its part. Now it is time for a different branch of government to do its part.

“I think the attorney generals opinion was spot on and followed the letter of the law and I appreciate NFOA and individual Nebraskans standing up to be plaintiffs in these lawsuits. Lawyers can’t do anything without clients.”

Huebert adds, “The consequence should be that a court should declare that what they have done is against the law and they should order these governments not to enforce these orders. And these ordinances. That’s the remedy here.”

Hearings will be scheduled in January, according to Huebert.

Read the Omaha complaint here.

In Lincoln, Yohance Christie, City Attorney, a statement regarding the civil complaint filed in the Lancaster County District Court about prohibiting firearms at City-managed public spaces.

“The City of Lincoln asserts a differing viewpoint than the court filing. The actions the City has taken to protect the safety and quality of life of our residents and visitors are in compliance with the law,” Christie said.