By HOWARD FISCHER
Friday, February 17, 2006 8:25 AM CST
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers want to make sure that state officials do not take your guns the next time a hurricane strikes Arizona.
Or an earthquake, flood, invasion or pandemic. Advertisement
The Senate Government Committee approved legislation Thursday that would specifically make it illegal for the governor or any official to confiscate legally kept firearms during a state of emergency. The 5-2 vote sends the measure to the full Senate.
Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, said this isn't some academic exercise.
He said that in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, New Orleans police began taking guns from residents. Martin said that included not only criminals but other people who were simply defending themselves or their homes.
"In one case it was a little old lady sitting in her own house," he said.
The action in Louisiana eventually resulted in a federal judge issuing a restraining order blocking further seizures and ordering police to return confiscated firearms. Martin said it should not have to come to that here.
Existing state law gives the governor broad powers during a declared emergency. That includes "all police power vested in the state by the constitution and laws of this state."
Gary Christensen, a member of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, said the experience of Katrina proves that some statutory limits are necessary here.
"If ever there was a time to support the Second Amendment it's during a state of emergency," he said. "People are left on their own in the initial stages of natural disaster and riots."
Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, said the measure, SB 1425, is built on the incorrect presumption that constitutional rights can never be suspended in emergencies. He said, for example, that a curfew can interfere with the First Amendment right of people to assemble.
And Brotherton said there may be legitimate reasons to control the number of guns on the street during an emergency.
Sen. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, was more blunt, calling the legislation "a license to shoot first and ask questions later."
Martin said nothing in his legislation prohibits police from exercising control through things like a curfew. He said people who go on the streets during prohibited hours with their weapons would still be subject to arrest.
He acknowledged that nothing in his legislation would bar similar action by the president in the case of a nationally declared emergency, as state lawmakers have no sway over federal law.