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Judge temporarily halts handgun order in Omaha until court case is decided

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Judge temporarily halts handgun order in Omaha until court case is decided

Feb 09, 2024 | 7:51 pm ET
By Aaron Sanderford
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Judge temporarily halts handgun order in Omaha until court case is decided
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City restrictions on where concealed handguns can be carried could soon be the subject of legal challenges. (Getty Images)

OMAHA — Handguns are legal now in Omaha’s city parks, trails, sidewalks and parking areas after a judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday against Mayor Jean Stothert’s executive order limiting handgun possession on most city property.

Judge temporarily halts handgun order in Omaha until court case is decided
Patricia Harrold of Nebraska Firearms Owners Association testifies against a set of gun-related ordinances and resolutions in Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Douglas County District Judge LeAnne Srb paused the order that Stothert issued last summer after state lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 77, which in part preempted local regulation of handguns.

Srb’s order questioned the City of Omaha’s contention that it was restricting guns as a landlord and not as an authority. She wrote that the city might own the premises it regulates, but Stothert’s order “appears to be an action taken for the public welfare pursuant to governmental or police power.”

Much of her order appeared to echo an interpretation of the new law’s application from a formal opinion issued in December by Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers

“Given the Plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the factors of irreparable harm, the balance of the equities, and the public interest also weigh in favor of a temporary injunction,” Srb wrote.

The Nebraska Firearms Owners Association sued Omaha and Lincoln in December after Stothert and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird issued similar orders restricting handguns. The Lincoln lawsuit is headed to Lancaster County District Court on Feb. 27.  

Certainty for gun owners

State Sen. Tom Brewer, the author of LB 77, represents north-central Nebraska. He has said he wanted certainty for “law-abiding gun owners.” Much of LB 77 focused on allowing the concealed carry of handguns without a permit or training.

Judge temporarily halts handgun order in Omaha until court case is decided
Members of the gun-restriction advocacy group Moms Demand Action Nebraska listen to testimony in their red shirts in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

On Friday, Brewer said he was still reviewing the injunction. He said he was “very encouraged by Judge Srb’s decision to stop Omaha from enforcing Mayor Stothert’s illegal executive order.” Stothert’s office had no immediate comment.

A Stothert spokeswoman, however, shared a statement from City Attorney Matt Kuhse that said LB 77 had removed the city’s “ability to enforce local gun laws.” He called it “unfortunate that the court enjoined the city’s ability to protect our public spaces.”

Kuhse said the city would follow the order. 

He noted that the injunction left in place the City Council’s new ordinances prohibiting bump stocks and kits to build guns at home, including some without serial numbers for tracking. 

The ordinances were targeted, as well, in the lawsuit. The judge wrote that legal questions about those changes were less clear than on the executive order and should wait for trial. The injunction will remain in place until then.

Clients ‘thrilled,’ attorney says

Before the passage of LB 77, both Omaha and Lincoln used local gun ordinances to regulate guns and gang violence. The two cities have pointed to LB 77’s carve-out for property owners and renters to restrict guns on the properties they control. 

Jacob Huebert, president of the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which is handling the lawsuits for the local firearms group, said his clients were “thrilled” with the court’s action. He said it upheld “Nebraskans’ rights against executive overreach.”

Melody Vaccaro of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence said she hopes people who are upset that it is now legal to take handguns to Omaha parks will share their displeasure with a bipartisan group of state senators who thought “preemption was a good idea.”

“This is what happens,” she said. “People are less safe.”

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