Imagine that a natural disaster has just occurred, forcing you and your family to evacuate your home. From your living room window, you can see armed gangs going in and out of your neighbors’ homes. Law enforcement is overwhelmed across all of Western Washington.
As you slowly proceed down I-5, you realize that traffic is completely stopped. Flashing lights inform you that there is a roadblock ahead. Members of the Washington National Guard carrying rifles approach your vehicle and ask whether you have any weapons. The Governor has just invoked emergency powers and your pistol (for which you have a Concealed Pistol License) is confiscated by order of the King County executive.
This may seem far-fetched, but it happened in New Orleans when local government systematically deprived people of the means to protect their families against violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A King County statute purports to provide such emergency powers. Even though local statutes conferring such powers violate state law, many counties and cities have laws like King County’s statute that purport to provide such “emergency powers.”
A 2006 federal law provides that states, counties and other local governments that receive federal emergency funds may be sued for confiscating guns. In the event that the governor invokes state law authorizing emergency powers, and citizens’ guns are confiscated (where the subject of the confiscation is otherwise lawfully in possession of the weapon):
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 42 USC Sec. 5207: The Vitter Amendment was enacted as a result of outrage when authorities in New Orleans deprived citizens of the means for self-defense when the people needed their guns the most. The Washington State and U.S. Constitutions unequivocally protect the right to keep and bear arms because our forefathers anticipated that conditions will arise during which government officials will perceive armed citizens as a threat. It was for exactly such times that the forefathers expected Americans to prepare by acquiring the means for armed self-defense. Judging by levels of recent gun sales, many Americans believe that we are living in just such a time.