As Hurricane Irma made a path towards the US Virgin Islands, Governor Kenneth Mapp took steps to prove civil libertarians are justified in their fears that many politicians would use the cover of an emergency to deny citizens their rights. In an executive order signed days before the storm made landfall, the Governor “authorized and directed” the US territory’s National Guard to “seize arms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary material and any other property that may be required by the military forces for the performance of this emergency mission.” The order, which many say would have undermined both the 2nd and 4th amendments, was quickly challenged by advocacy groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA), which threatened legal action.
Governor Mapp is a registered Republican who won office as an Independent. His order follows in the footsteps of one issued by New Orleans Democrat Mayor Ray Nagin following Hurricane Katrina that saw law enforcement confiscate lawfully-owned firearms from city residents before imposing a forced evacuation of the population.
In response to criticism, Mapp denied he had authorized the forcible confiscation of legally owned firearms, despite the clear language of his executive order. He further went on to issue a clarification that the intent of the order was to allow the National Guard to purchase material for the purpose of disaster response.
Civil libertarians remain skeptical. Writing on the organization’s website, the NRA’s Chris Cox said, “How a seizure order is not about seizing property is anyone’s guess, but obfuscation has always played a central role in the ongoing assault on our rights.” Currently only slightly more than half of US states have some sort of emergency powers mandate that protects citizens from having their firearms confiscated by law enforcement or the National Guard during a crisis.