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GOCRA BRIEFING: Emergency Powers

GOCRA BRIEFING: Emergency Powers Need Limits

During Hurricane Katrina, government officials confiscated and ruined thousands of legally owned firearms, depriving the owners of their property and leaving them vulnerable to criminal attack during a period of lawlessness. A subsequent lawsuit resulted in a large settlement payment by government agencies.

During a declared emergency, the governor’s orders are the law

Under current statute,
“Orders and rules promulgated by the governor…have, during a national security emergency, peacetime emergency, or energy supply emergency, the full force and effect of law.”
These orders may include
“…the direction or control of…the conduct of persons in the state…during, prior, and subsequent to drills or actual emergencies….”
As we have seen in other states, during an emergency, emergency managers have forbidden the carry or use of personal firearm and have ordered the seizure of these self defense tools by police.  

The Constitution doesn’t stop during a state of emergency

HF722 is written to ensure that state and local officials don’t violate the Constitution under the pressure of an emergency situation.  

The right of self defense is needed most during an emergency

The state’s interest in maintaining order must be balanced with citizens’ civil, constitutional and human rights, including the right to self defense. Even when there is no state of emergency, police are rarely able to stop a criminal attack in progress; they cannot be everywhere, and usually arrive after the attack has ended. During a state of emergency, first responders may be stretched very thin, communication may be significantly impaired, and response times may be extensive or nonexistent. This means that, even more than usual, during an emergency, citizens’ only means of protection will be what they can provide.  

A simple framework for emergency managers and responders

HF722 provides very clear, very simple rules for states of emergency:
  1. Law enforcement may temporarily disarm a person for their safety, and for purposes of investigation, BUT
  2. Law enforcement may not take a gun away unless they arrest the person.
  3. Orders may not single out firearms or firearm-related items or activities.

A clear process for redress and restoration

In the event that a firearm is seized in violation of those simple rules, HF722 provides for a straightforward process for the owner to petition a court for return of the firearm, and ensures that court costs are borne by the prevailing party, so that the legal costs of recovery do not exceed the loss.