With hurricane season now upon us, U.S. states and territories are preparing for a barrage of potentially damaging weather. In the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), however, those preparations include an order by Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp for the National Guard to seize residents’ lawfully-owned firearms and ammunition, ostensibly as a means of promoting public order and protecting life and property during Hurricane Irma.
The order states in no uncertain terms that the Adjutant General of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard is “authorized and directed to seize arms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary material and any other property” deemed necessary to the mission of maintaining or restoring order during the storm.
Certainly, the rest of America’s thoughts and prayers are with the USVI as they recover from the damage Irma caused. Nevertheless, Gov. Mapp’s Sept. 4 order was an inexcusable incursion on the right of the U.S. citizens who reside on the USVI to protect themselves from the all-too-predictable outbreaks of looting and crime that can occur when normal emergency services are overtaxed by an extraordinary event. Simply put, it violated the U.S. Constitution and threatened to put innocent people at further risk.
America has seen similar overreaches in the past, most notoriously during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when local officials ordered the confiscation of lawfully-owned firearms from New Orleans residents. First responders had been overwhelmed by the demands of the storm, and those who had not managed to evacuate were dealing with virtual anarchy. For many gun owners, the shocking site of a frail woman being slammed to the ground in her own home by police enforcing the post-Katrina order remains an indelible image of the very sort of violent firearm seizures that some claim could never happen in the U.S.
The NRA intervened in federal court and was able to halt the New Orleans confiscations and obtain an order requiring the return of the seized firearms. Nevertheless, the city delayed compliance with the order for as long as it could, including requiring unrealistic documentation from gun owners whose lives had been turned upside by the storm. Only in 2008 did the NRA and the city agree on mutually acceptable terms for the return of the unlawfully confiscated property.
The NRA also promoted legislation to prevent government officials from using their emergency powers as a pretext for disarming the citizenry. In 2006, Congressman Bobby Jindal (LA) led the fight to protect America’s gun owners against these abuses by introducing H.R. 5013 in the House, a final version of which was signed by President George W. Bush in October of that year. Now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5207, the law prohibits persons acting under color of federal law, receiving federal funds, or acting at the direction of a federal employee from seizing or authorizing the seizure of lawfully-possessed firearms during a state of emergency. The majority of U.S. states now have similar laws.
The NRA quickly condemned Gov. Mapp’s order and pledged to take any necessary legal action to ensure that the people of the USVI were not deprived of their constitutionally protected arms when they might need them the most.
Barely 24 hours later, Gov. Mapp appeared before a national audience on the Tucker Carlson Show and furiously backpedaled, bizarrely claiming that the order simply meant that Guard units could purchase necessary emergency supplies at retail without the formalities of normal procurement procedures. “This is not about seizing anybody’s personal property,” he insisted.
That on-the-fly revision was too much even for the “fact-checking” (and typically antigun) website Snopes, which acknowledged there was no support for this interpretation in the actual words of the order itself.
Just what Gov. Mapp meant to do or thought he was doing with his “seizure” order remains unclear. To date, the NRA has received no information that any actual seizures have occurred.
Nevertheless, the incident should serve as a wake-up call for those who insist that the threat of civilian firearm confiscation is a scare tactic invented by the NRA. Americans saw it themselves this week, stamped with the gold seal of officialdom.
As ever, your NRA will remain vigilant and prepared to act so that no law-abiding American is forced to face danger without the protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.