Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Residents of King, N.C., were startled earlier this month when a declared snow emergency triggered a law forbidding the possession of firearms in public.
Furthermore, North Carolina isn’t the only state where authorities can ban gun sales, or even possession, upon declaration of “emergency,” even though what constitutes an “emergency” might be deemed questionable.
According to North Carolina statute 14-288.7, when a municipality declares a state of emergency in which “public safety authorities are unable to … afford adequate protection for lives or property” – such as during the recent East Coast record snowfall – “it is unlawful for any person to transport or possess off his own premises any dangerous weapon.”
In other words, when the cops can’t get through on the roads, the citizens can’t take guns off their own property.
“This has to be the most ridiculous event of the century!” protested a commenter on the website of Winston-Salem’s WXII-TV, which reported the ban. “This is the ultimate denial of liberties for the most asinine reason … bad weather!”
But King Police Chief Paula May told the station that when the City Council and county authorities declared the emergency, regardless of the reason, state law took over.
“By law, statute 14-288.7 automatically went into effect,” May told WXII. “And that law, which goes into effect when there’s a state of emergency, prohibits the transportation, purchase, sale and possession of firearms other than on one’s own premises.”
Other states also have laws restricting firearm use that lie dormant until a declared state of emergency, a fact that worries some gun rights activists.
Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act, for example, states in Article G, Chapter 61, Statute 6017, that “no person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun upon the public streets or upon any public property during an emergency” unless that person is defending their life or property from immediate attack.
Currently in Colorado, State Senator Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, has introduced Bill S10-51, which would strike “firearms” from a list of items the governor may suspend sale, dispensing and transportation of during a declared emergency. The bill, however, has been postponed indefinitely in committee.
Georgia State Senator Preston Smith, R-Rome, has filed Senate Bill 342 in his state for the same purpose.
“Personally, I think [North Carolina's] law is unconstitutional to start with and stupid public policy,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of Second Amendment Foundation.
“It reminded me of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans confiscated guns,” Gottlieb told WND, “and we went to court to stop that.”
Indeed, following the firearm controversy in Katrina’s wake, gun rights advocates pushed first Louisiana, then several other states, to pass laws limiting gun-control grabs during times of declared emergency. State Senators Renfroe and Smith of Colorado and Georgia, respectively, are simply among the most recent to take up the cause.
Gottlieb told WND a federal law was also passed that would deny federal disaster aid to towns and states that actually confiscate guns from people, as was done in New Orleans.
“This move in North Carolina may violate that [federal law], and we may look into that,” Gottlieb said. “We’re looking at seeing how we can stop them from doing this in the future.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it done for a snow emergency,” he continued. “It surprised us that they did this. There was no reason to do it, nothing to trigger it. No one was doing anything wrong.”
The King, N.C., state of emergency – which was coupled with a curfew and a corresponding ban on alcohol sales during the snow crisis – was in effect for less than 24 hours over a Sunday evening, until roadways could be cleared.
But some residents were still upset by the sudden imposition of government restrictions.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” area resident Andrea Williams told WXII-TV. “I think it crossed over into our Constitutional rights and our civil liberties.”