Hurricane Katrina Case:
First Permanent Injunction Entered in Gun Grab
by Dave Workman
A permanent injunction order has been entered in the lawsuit filed last year by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and National Rifle Association (NRA) that brought a halt to the arbitrary confiscation of firearms from private citizens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
However, the order applies only to St. Tammany Parish. The city of New Orleans has largely ignored the lawsuit, insisting that its police department had not seized anyones firearms. Evidence suggests otherwise. Gun Week interviewed Texan Jason Clemm in the Dec. 1 edition, in which he explained how his pistol, and one owned by a co-worker, were taken by New Orleans police. They later recovered both handguns, but a laser sight had been removed from one of the pistols.
Ironically, days after SAF and NRA attorneys conferred on their next move, gunfire erupted at a Martin Luther King gathering in New Orleans, and according to Associated Press, three people were wounded.
The consent order, dated Jan. 5, releases Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain and his deputies from any remaining claims. It does not apply to the other defendants in the landmark lawsuit, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and now-former Police Chief P. Edwin Compass III. Compass retired from his police job last year just days after the NRA and SAF had secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the gun confiscations. Compass is now reportedly living somewhere in Texas.
Gunowners across the country were outraged in the days after Katrina, when Compass and then-Deputy Chief Warren Riley were both quoted as saying all guns would be confiscated and only police would be allowed to have firearms. As police officers from around the country descended on the city to restore order after days of looting and random violence, one detachment of California Highway Patrol officers was filmed by a San Francisco television news crew gang tackling a woman identified as Patricia Konie, to disarm her and move her out of her house against her will. Konie suffered a serious injury from that incident and had to undergo surgery late last year, Gun Week learned from her attorney, Ashton ODwyer. ODwyer, ironically, had his own confrontation with police who disarmed him and held him in detention for several hours.
In another irony, many gun rights activists engaged in blistering dialogue, criticizing the NRA for allegedly standing by as the guns were being grabbed, while in reality, NRA and SAF had almost immediately begun working in cooperation on the lawsuit, the first of its kind in the nation. In the days prior to heading to federal court, NRA and SAF had dispatched investigators to New Orleans to track down and interview possible plaintiffs, and had also retained the services of a local attorney.
The biggest problem investigators encountered, Gun Week learned, was locating those who had been disarmed, sometimes at gunpoint, because many had been forcefully evacuated to other parts of the country.
Eventually, though, all the pieces came together. On Sept. 23, the opening day of the Gun Rights Policy Conference, sponsored by SAF and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Los Angeles, CA, the attorneys marched into federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and swiftly, upon reviewing evidence that included film clips, Judge Jay Zainey issued the temporary order.
Suddenly, all the critics fell silent and activists began cheering NRA and SAF for their court action.
It was a smashing victory for both gun rights organizations. Not surprisingly, SAF and NRA are now partners, along with the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, in a lawsuit to overturn the San Francisco handgun ban. Yet the TRO in Louisiana was only temporary, pending more legal work that led to the permanent order issued against St. Tammany Parish.
In that order, the court acknowledged that St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Strain denied the allegations that it was ever the policy to seize lawfully-possessed firearms from private citizens. The sheriff also insisted that any firearm seizures were terminated shortly after the hurricane, and that they were done in good faith, under emergency circumstances.
The permanent order enjoins the sheriff and his deputies from confiscating lawfully-possessed firearms from all citizens. The court further ordered Strain to return all seized firearms, which had actually started within hours after the TRO was issued in September. A chief plaintiff in the case, Buell O. Teel, actually got his guns back the same day the TRO was entered.
There is no question that many guns were seized, but just how many remains a mystery. It appears less than a 100 were taken from citizens in St. Tammany Parish, and many, if not most of those confiscations were done by visiting law enforcement officers, including federal officers from various agencies, and not by St. Tammany deputies. Gun Week has learned that Strain and most of his deputies are NRA members, or members of related organizations, and that the department quickly returned firearms to their rightful owners.
So many New Orleans residents have not returned to the city and may never come back, sources familiar with the lawsuit acknowledge. Because of that, it may never be possible to determine just how many citizens of the city lost their firearms.
There is no indication that many, if any, guns were seized elsewhere in the path of the hurricane, in Louisiana or Mississippi. Indeed, in other areas, public officials have been outspoken in the other direction. The mayor of Montgomery, AL, for example, has advised his constituents to arm themselves.
Both NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and SAF founder Alan Gottlieb have been telling gunowners ever since the lawsuit, Remember New Orleans. That has become a rallying cry for activists all over the map, and both gun rights leaders have vowed that such gun seizures will never happen again.
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