As the state and federal response to the Coronavirus gets larger by the hour, Iowans want to know just how far this power can extend where their gun rights are concerned.
If you missed our email about the limitations of Governor Reynolds’ power during a disaster declaration from last week, read that here.
(The short version is that your rights are protected here in Iowa from any state, county, or municipal level attacks.)
But with President Trump invoking the Stafford Act — granting FEMA the power to manage the federal government’s response to this situation — many people are asking about limitations on the federal government’s ability to confiscate firearms.
It’s a fair question to ask as virtually everyone remembers what happened in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where city ‘leaders’ ordered the confiscation of firearms in the aftermath of the storm.
The good news is that can not happen ever again, even if the President invokes the Stafford Act!
On July 13, 2006, then President G.W. Bush signed H.4. 5441, legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
Inside of that bill was language (the Vitter Amendment) that clearly prohibits the federal government from using a disaster as justification to confiscate firearms.
The language is here:
(a) PROHIBITION ON CONFISCATION OF FIREARMS. No officer or employee of the United States (including any member of the uniformed services), or person operating pursuant to or under color of Federal law, or receiving Federal funds, or under control of any Federal official, or providing services to such an officer, employee, or other person,
while acting in support of relief from a major disaster or emergency, may
(1) temporarily or permanently seize, or authorize seizure of, any firearm the possession of which is not prohibited under Federal, State, or local law, other than for forfeiture in compliance with Federal law or as evidence in a criminal investigation;
(2) require registration of any firearm for which registration is not required by Federal, State, or local law;
(3) prohibit possession of any firearm, or promulgate any rule, regulation, or order prohibiting possession of any firearm, in any place or by any person where such possession is not otherwise prohibited by Federal, State, or local law; or
(4) prohibit the carrying of firearms by any person otherwise authorized to carry firearms under Federal, State, or local law, solely because such person is operating under the direction, control, or supervision of a Federal agency in support of relief from the major disaster or emergency.
(b) LIMITATION. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person in subsection (a) from requiring the temporary surrender of a firearm as a condition for entry into any mode of transportation used for rescue or evacuation during a major disaster or emergency, provided that such temporarily surrendered firearm is returned at the completion of such rescue or evacuation.
In a nutshell, other than requiring you to disarm before you can be rescued from a disaster situation, the federal government can not confiscate, register, or limit your lawful use of firearms, even after the Stafford Act has been invoked.
What’s more, if any governmental unit were to violate this section, gun owners could take them to court over it to obtain their firearms back and sue for damages.
See for yourself.
(c) PRIVATE RIGHTS OF ACTION.
(1) Any individual aggrieved by a violation of this section may seek relief in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress against any person who subjects such individual, or causes such individual to be subjected, to the deprivation of any of the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by this section.
(2) In addition to any existing remedy in law or equity, under any law, an individual aggrieved by the seizure or confiscation of a firearm in violation of this section may bring an action for return of such firearm in the United States district court in the district in which that individual resides or in which such firearm may be found.
(3) In any action or proceeding to enforce this section, the court shall award the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.
So to reiterate, neither the state nor federal government can use an emergency declaration or the Stafford Act to deny someone their right to keep and bear arms.
Again, we have not heard of any governmental units attempting this in Iowa at this time.
But it’s certainly happening in other states.
If you hear of any jurisdictions trying to limit these freedoms here in Iowa, please let us know.