This weekend, Congress passed, and sent to the President for his signature, the Homeland Security appropriations bill, H.R. 5441. The Conference Report of the bill includes a variety of non-appropriations measures to enhance homeland security. The most notable of these is the construction 700 miles of fence along the portions of the Mexican border which are the main transit zones for illegal aliens. Also included in the legislation is a ban on gun confiscation during emergencies and natural disasters, to prevent a repeat of the post-Katrina abuses such as law enforcement officers breaking into homes and confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens.
The new legislation is a modified version of H.R. 5013, by Louisiana Representative Bobby Jindal, which overwhelmingly passed the House in July, and which I wrote about here.
The full text is below, preceded by my summary.
Summary: (a). The bill applies to all law enforcement, including state and local. (Formally, it applies to federal law enforcement, plus anyone receiving federal funds or assisting federal law enforcement. In a disaster, this means almost everyone.) It bans gun confiscation, gun registration, and restrictions on where a firearm may be possessed; confisction, registration, and restrictions pursuant to existing laws are still allowed. People who are assisting federal disaster relief, and who are allowed to carry firearms under existing law, may not be forbidden to do so.
(b) When mass transit is being used for evacuation (e.g., busses out of New Orleans), passengers can be required to surrender their firearms for the duration of the trip, and then reclaim the firearms when the trip is over.
(c) A person victimized by a violation of this law can sue in federal district court; a prevailing plaintiff will be awarded attorney fees.
SEC. 557. Title VII of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5201) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘SEC. 706. FIREARMS POLICIES.
‘‘(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.
‘‘(c) PRIVATE RIGHTS OF ACTION.—
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—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) REMEDIES.—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) ATTORNEY FEES.—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.’’.