Omaha officials are asking for a lawsuit with their new "sensitive places" ordinance

Omaha officials are asking for a lawsuit with their new "sensitive places" ordinance
Ross D. Franklin

Starting Saturday, Nebraska residents be able to lawfully bear arms without the need for a government-issued permission slip thanks to the passage of LB 77 earlier this year, but Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the city council are intent on blocking gun owners from setting foot on city property once the law takes effect this weekend.

On Tuesday evening the city council voted unanimously to ban concealed carry on all city property, setting up a potential challenge under both Nebraska’s firearms preemption law as well as on Second Amendment grounds. Stothert was quick to sign the new ordinance into effect, though apparently she’s had to do it all over again because of a “technical error” in the language.

It’s not the technical details that are the biggest issue with the new ordinance. It’s the fact that Omaha is designating broad swathes of publicly accessible spaces as “sensitive” when the Supreme Court has already said those places are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to bearing arms in public.

Every building owned or leased by the city will have a sign similar to this one that bans all concealed firearms on its properties.

This is a result of the mayor’s new executive order.

“However, the primary exception is law enforcement,” Khuse said. “Obviously, law enforcement and Omaha police officers are allowed to have their weapons.”

Signs that ban firearms will be placed on entrances and parking lots of city, police, and fire facilities, as well, as libraries, parks, and community centers.

City attorney Matt Khuse told 6 News while Omaha has no option to abide by the state’s new permitless concealed carry law, city officials are prioritizing public safety

“There is a concern about the public feeling safe using our public spaces and wanting to be free from any type of worry or concern,” Khuse said.

Barring concealed carry from every square inch of government-owned or leased property is far too broad under Bruen, especially when there’s no evidence that many of those locations are actually “sensitive” in nature or provide security on a regular basis. Prohibiting concealed carry in a police station or a courthouse would probably be in line with Bruen, but libraries, parks, and community centers typically don’t have their own security in place to protect against violent crime, either inside the premises or the parking lots outside.

But a court challenge to the new “gun-free zones” in Omaha doesn’t need to rest with the Bruen decision. Under Nebraska’s firearm preemption law, cities like Omaha are prohibited from passing their own local ordinances regulating the “ownership, possession, storage, transportation, sale, and transfer of firearms and other weapon”, though the preemption statute contains a list of “sensitive places” of its own that encompasses some, but not all, of Omaha’s new locations off-limits to legal gun owners.

Police, sheriff, or Nebraska State Patrol station or office

detention facility, prison, or jail

courtroom or building which contains a courtroom

polling place during a bona fide election

meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality, or other political subdivision

meeting of the Legislature or a committee of the Legislature

financial institution

professional or semiprofessional athletic event

building, grounds, vehicle, or sponsored activity or athletic event of any public, private, denominational, or parochial elementary, vocational, or secondary school, a private postsecondary career school as defined in section 85-1603, a community college, or a public or private college, junior college, or university

place of worship

hospital, emergency room, or trauma center

political rally or fundraiser

establishment having a license issued under the Nebraska Liquor Control Act that derives over one-half of its total income from the sale of alcoholic liquor

Frankly, the list of “sensitive places” adopted by the Nebraska legislature has some issues of its own, but nowhere in that laundry list of “gun-free zones” will you find places like fire departments, libraries, public parks, and community centers… much less the parking lots attached to those locations. In fact, even places like City Hall would appear to be off-limits to the type of ban imposed by Omaha officials, at least when public meetings aren’t taking place.

Southert and the city council were adamantly opposed to the passage of LB 77, but their objections don’t give them the power or authority to subvert state law and infringe on the fundamental civil liberties of Nebraska residents. This new ordinance is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I’m looking forward to seeing the day in the not-too-distant future when it’s consigned to the dustbin of history by the courts.