WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to prohibit the confiscation of legally owned guns during an emergency like last year's Hurricane Katrina, marking another victory for the gun lobby.
By a vote of 84-16, the Senate embraced an amendment by Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican. He attached his measure to a domestic security spending bill for the fiscal year starting October 1 that the Senate is expected to pass soon.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of the spending bill and negotiators will have to decide whether to keep the gun provision. The House is usually sympathetic to gun owners.
Citing the constitutional right to bear arms, Vitter said that during an emergency people should be allowed to hold onto "legally possessed firearms to defend your life, your property" at a time when telephone lines and cell phones probably are not operating and victims "can't reach out to law enforcement authorities."
A man carries a shotgun as he surveys damage to his neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Metairie, outside New Orleans September 5, 2005. The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to prohibit the confiscation of legally owned guns during an emergency like last year's Hurricane Katrina, marking another victory for the gun lobby. REUTERS/Lee Celano
Vitter said 10 states have passed similar laws. Louisiana is one of them.
Following Hurricane Katrina last August, some emergency workers expressed fears about guns being looted from stores and first-responders being threatened by gun proliferation.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, called the amendment "pay-back time by the National Rifle Association," a powerful lobbying group that opposes gun controls.
Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, added, "You send the National Guardsmen in ... and then snipers start shooting at them and the police make it known this is going to be a gun-free zone. We don't want any National Guardsmen killed because of this national emergency, this disaster. Is that an unreasonable thing?"
Vitter countered that the "declaration or state of emergency in and of itself does not give anyone the right to confiscate guns" and local law enforcement officials should not "trump" the Constitution.
Last month, gun lobbyists won another victory when the House voted to overturn a recently enacted law requiring safety trigger locks on all hand guns sold in the United States.
That measure, attached to a law enforcement spending bill, awaits Senate action.