By Todd Duncan, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist
If you attended this year’s NIRMA Self Defense for County Officials conference in Kearney, you may have sat in on my session titled, Packing Heat, No Permit: Understanding LB 77. During this session, there was quite a bit of discussion around the issue of Nebraska’s open carry firearms laws, particularly as they apply to courthouses. So much so that we thought it would be worthwhile to follow up with additional information on Nebraska’s open carry laws in this month’s Safety Shorts.
While LB 77 resulted in changes to Nebraska laws related to carrying concealed handguns, there were no changes pertaining to openly carrying firearms in public places, therefore State law remains relatively silent on the subject. With the exception of NRS 28-1204.04 which prohibits possessing any firearms on school property, at school-sponsored events, and in school vehicles, Nebraska law generally permits openly carrying firearms in public places, including publicly owned buildings or other public facilities.
Neither the U.S. Supreme Court, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, or Nebraska Supreme Court have issued a definitive, universally applicable stance on open carry of firearms in courthouses or other publicly owned buildings. And NIRMA members are not the only group seeking clarification on this issue. In 2019, the American Bar Association issued the following resolution:
“RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal courts and legislatures to develop policies and protocols as to who may carry firearms in courthouses, courtrooms, and judicial centers that allow only those persons necessary to ensure security, including approved safety officers, judges, and court personnel, have weapons in the courthouse, courtroom, or judicial center, including common areas within the buildings as well as the grounds immediately adjacent to the justice complex, and that require training for those who are permitted to carry firearms.”
To its credit, the Nebraska Supreme Court has taken steps to address this issue. Nebraska Supreme Court Rule § 6-1511, Courtroom Decorum, states that “No person shall possess any firearm or other dangerous weapon in the courtroom or in any public area adjacent to it without the permission of the court.” Arguably, many if not all offices within a courthouse could be considered adjacent to a courtroom, but NIRMA recommends consulting your local judge(s) and county attorney to discuss the enforcement of this rule.
Even though Nebraska statutes are relatively silent on where citizens may openly carry firearms, state law does establish restrictions on who can possess firearms, the type of firearms that may be possessed, and the conduct of the person possessing the firearm, i.e., Terroristic Threats, Disturbing the Peace, Unlawful Discharge, etc. These are important considerations for law enforcement when contacting individuals who are in possession of a firearm, whether in a public facility or any other location.
Until the courts or legislature provide clarification on the issue of open carry in public facilities, it is up to county officials to establish legally defensible policies and procedures that balance public safety with constitutional rights. The following table is intended to serve as a quick reference guide as counties consider this issue:
|Public Places||Private Property|
|Open Carry Firearms||Nebraska law does not prohibit openly carrying a firearm in public places other than schools (NRS 28-1204.04). Government owned facilities and property are generally considered public places. This includes county owned property.||The owner or person in control of private property may prohibit persons from possessing any weapons, including firearms carried openly, onto or into their property. If a person in possession of any firearm, open or concealed, refuses to leave the premises upon order of the owner or person in control of such property, they may be subject to arrest for trespassing under NRS 28-521.|
|Concealed Carry of Handguns
|NRS 28-1202.01(3) prohibits carrying a concealed handgun into or onto any police, sheriff, or State Patrol station or office; detention facility, prison, or jail; courtroom or building which contains a courtroom; active polling place; 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; or building, grounds, vehicle, or sponsored activity or athletic event of any public elementary, vocational, or secondary school. Exceptions apply, i.e., law enforcement officers.||NRS 28-1202.01(3) prohibits carrying a concealed handgun into or onto any financial institution; professional or semiprofessional athletic event; building, grounds, vehicle, or sponsored activity or athletic event of any 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; place where the possession or carrying of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law; or any other place or premises where handguns are prohibited by state law. Exceptions apply, i.e., law enforcement officers.|
|NRS 28-1202.01(3) prohibits carrying a concealed handgun into or onto any place or premises where the person, persons, entity, or entities in control of the place or premises or employer in control of the place or premises has prohibited the carrying of concealed handguns into or onto the place or premises.|
When developing a strategy on this issue, NIRMA encourages county leaders to consider the following recommendations:
- Ensure the county has a workplace violence prevention policy addressing firearms and other weapons in the workplace. A model workplace violence policy can be found on page 43 of the employee handbook within NIRMA’s Guide to Creating a Personnel System.
- Conspicuously post “No Firearms or Weapons” signs at the entrances to all county facilities. While the enforceability of a ban on open carry has not been tested by the courts, NRS 28-1202.01(3) clearly prohibits carrying a concealed handgun into or onto most county facilities including any sheriff’s office facility; jail; courtroom or building which contains a courtroom; active polling place; or meeting of the governing body of a county.
- Have a plan. It is important that county leadership is on the same page on this issue and that a plan is in place for responding to situations where individuals bring firearms into county facilities, whether the firearm is concealed or carried openly.
DISCLAIMER- No action on the following recommendations should be taken by any member without first involving the county sheriff, county attorney, and county board in the conversation and decision-making process. Some details and exceptions listed in the listed statutes were omitted for brevity. Please read the laws in their entirety.