A reader recently submitted a question about firearm confiscation during emergencies (the same question was posed to the author of Suburban Survival Blog and answered there a few days ago). Lightly edited:
[I]n regards to your plans for defense and firearms, in the event of an emergency (SHTF or something leading up to TEOTWAWKI) do you *really* believe that you will be allowed to keep your firearms if such an event happens? (emphasis mine)
Remember that after Katrina, New Orleans police confiscated all [legal] firearms and held on to them long after the immediate emergency was over. It wasn’t until the NRA sued and won did people finally get them back.
And if there is social unrest predicated on an severe economic down-turn (as many very credible pundits believe there will be in 2011), government at the local, state and/or Federal level will most likely try a firearms confiscation as they try to maintain order – just at the very time you may need them (even if you don’t leave for your farm). Can’t count on the NRA or the courts to support the 2nd Amendment in the event of such an emergency.
I’m presuming you have purchased them from legitimate sources (not asking, not judging) so they are licensed/registered/etc and easily tracked down.
And even if you don’t leave for your farm but are forced by circumstances to leave your home for ‘official’ shelter like in a school or armory (or stadium as in New Orleans), I doubt you can take your firearms in. After all, it would make a statement to walk into a school gym with a duffel in one hand and a rifle slung over your shoulder!
There are a lot of variables to consider; national vs. state level, changes in gun laws, the nature of the emergency, and so on.
Nationally. A couple years ago I read that there are an estimated 270 million privately owned firearms in the U.S, so almost as many are there are people living here. Under current laws it is unrealistic to think that a) the government knows where they all are; b) has the resources to research where they all are (FFL records) and; c) has the resources to go get them.
Congress responded to the unconstitutional gun confiscations during Katrina with the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 (H.R. 5013 [109th]), which was signed into law in October 2006. North Carolina banned guns during a bad storm earlier this year and is being sued for it.
States and Localities. The 2006 federal law has major loopholes that leave room for states to confiscate firearms in some circumstances. I’m not a lawyer so won’t attempt to parse all the ins-and-outs, it’s enough to know they can. During major social uprisings, natural disasters, marital law, etc., they could confiscate weapons.
However, a growing number of states are passing “emergency powers” legislation that prevents firearm confiscation during emergencies. Map via the NRA:
Surprise, surprise, my home state of Nebraska doesn’t have such a law, at least yet. Viewing that map also directly affects my bug out plans for driving home when and if things start to fall apart, assuming I haven’t moved much closer by then (which I’m trying to do).
Game Changers. A break down in civil order and high violent crime rates, brought on by a currency crisis and hyperinflation or other event, could cause changes in both national and state/local gun laws and ordinances. Or a string of high-profile mass murders with semi-auto weapons could be enough to turn the tide on gun control, as it did in Australia (remember the Brady Bill?).
Most readers here will recognize that restrictive gun laws leave law abiding citizens unarmed and the criminals with guns, but unfortunately enough lawmakers may not.
Such a change could prompt the federal government to create a national firearms registration system, or the states to require registration (most states do not currently). Once such records are complete, it would be much easier to confiscate firearms if that decision was made. It would still be manpower intensive and expensive, but the most difficult part would be done.
Bottom Line: Right now, with our current laws, I’m not worried about targeted or door-to-door confiscation if things start to fall apart. Might not be able to carry outside the home (even with a permit), but not outright confiscation. That could change but I would expect laws to change first. Even if the laws do change, most law enforcement will be too busy trying to hold back total chaos.
What I am most worried about are checkpoints or roadblocks in states, towns, etc. that would search vehicles and persons for firearms, and confiscate them. If they really want to find them, they usually do. That’s one reason I plan to avoid interstates, major highways, and other main roads if things are getting bad. If things are fairly normal but looking to get bad, might not have to worry about it – too many variables.
Recommendations. 1) Don’t live in states or cities that require firearms registration or permits to buy. Live someplace where you don’t have to go through an FFL to legally purchase firearms. I know, easier said than done, but if it’s worth it to you, move if you live in a restrictive place. Whatever you do, don’t break the laws where you live since that will give “them” the excuse needed, and you may not be able to legally buy again – just not worth it.
2) Get a concealed carry permit. While this puts you on the state police radar for having a pistol, exactly what and how many you have is still an unknown (if you follow #1 above). It may allow you to carry in troubled times when you otherwise could not.
3) If things go south and you need to bug out, (aside from going soon) have a plan for concealing your weapons. If you don’t have a concealed carry permit, lock them in the trunk (or tool box, etc.), but, as the reader said, don’t be walking around with a rifle on your shoulder. While legal in most places, it’s conspicuous and during marital law can only invite trouble.
Check out the NRA gun laws page, and the Wikipedia gun laws page for state gun laws.