Kansas tornado produces gun rights bill
by Dave Workman
Eleven months after a devastating massive tornado swept through Greensburg, KSafter which unidentified “authorities” acting under questionable instructions seized firearms from homesthe Kansas House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would make such gun confiscations illegal in the wake of such a disaster.
Despite opposition from the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the Pratt County sheriff and Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the state legislature passed HB-2280, a sweeping bill that says no officer or employee of the state, or any political subdivision, may “temporarily or permanently seize, or authorize seizure of, any firearm, the possession of which is not prohibited under state law, other than as evidence in a criminal investigation…”
The bill also prohibits the governor, currently anti-gun Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, from suspending or limiting the sale or transportation of firearms, while the governor may still limit sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages, explosives and combustibles.
Pro-gun Republican state Sen. Phil Journey was elated. A former member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) board of directors, Journey described the bill to Gun Week as “the basic (Hurricane) Katrina legislation.” The vote was 121-0 in the House and 30-2 in the Senate.
Following the devastating 2005 hurricane that hit New Orleans and the surrounding area, police and some National Guard units moved through the city confiscating firearms from everyone, without warrant or probable cause. The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and NRA teamed up on a landmark federal lawsuit to stop the New Orleans gun seizures, and afterward, the NRA pushed for legislation in many states, including HB-2280 in Kansas, to prevent such gun confiscations.
Allegations of gun seizures appear to be at the center of the Kansas legislation.
A monster tornado at least two miles wide struck Greensburg, a small community in south-central Kansas west of Wichita on the night of May 4, 2007. Eleven people were killed and the town was largely destroyed. Entire neighborhoods were leveled and aerial photographs that appeared in The Wichita Eagle showed that much of the town had simply disappeared, leaving a landscape of building foundations, denuded trees, debris and little else.
But according to residents who spoke with Gun Week, insult was added to injury when guns were removed not only from wrecked homes but from homes that survived, even from secure cabinets and lockers. These firearms were stored in a tractor trailer, where they quickly deteriorated from heat and humidity. Officers, apparently from various agencies in the area, allegedly claimed that martial law had been imposed when it had not, and ordered all residents to leave the town. Some guns have never been recovered, others were damaged beyond repair.
Some people believe the order for collecting firearms came from the sheriff of a neighboring county, who has not returned calls from Gun Week. That sheriff opposed the new legislation.
Residents whose guns were grabbed want answers and they’re not getting any. Aaron Einsel, who had stored several of his personally owned guns with friends, told Gun Week that after the tornado, one of his friends discovered that Einsel’s guns had been taken from his house.
“I have no idea why they did that,” Einsel said. “After the storm, people were trying to gather their belongings. You’d take your guns and put them in a basement or closet, cover them up with a mattress, to hide them and protect them. And those guns were gone. They were in that gun trailer.”
Einsel eventually recovered his firearms. Another Greensburg resident, Bob Martin, is afraid he will never again see a couple of prized firearms, including a Browning trap gun, that has disappeared.
Martin, 83, was out of town at a trap shoot, and when he returned on the morning after the disaster, several, but not all, of his guns were missing. When he finally got back to what was left of his home, which wasn’t much, he discovered that someone had taken prized shotguns out of waterproof cases, left the cases open so they were damaged, and the guns were put in the storage trailer where they suffered damage.
“If they’d have left the guns in (the cases),” Martin lamented, “they wouldn’t have been damaged.”
He said lawmen he encountered when he and his wife returned from the trap shoot told him the town had been placed under martial law, and they could not enter. But he went around another way and got into town, finally found the ruins of his home and immediately began securing his remaining guns and searching for two Model 12 Winchesters, one of which had been given him by his father.
He got most of his guns back from the gun trailer, which was parked at the Highway Department lot in town, but is still missing is an expensive Browning BT99 trap gun.
Storm victim Jason Wacker said his home was still standing, but all of his guns went missing.
“That was the only things that were taken,” he said.
When he recovered them from the trailer several days later, he found that parts had been broken off, some of the stocks were cracked, and five days of heat and humidity in that trailer had resulted in extensive damage.
Wacker asserted that his firearms had been secured in the home and that whoever took them “had to break in somehow.”
Another resident, Jeremy Butler, told Gun Week that “they only got one of mine, and I got it back but it was ruined.”
“Everything was wet after the tornado,” he recalled. “They just threw (guns) in a trailer and wouldn’t let anyone get them until they were rusted clear up.”
What happened in Greensburg after the tornado might never have been widely known had it not been for the efforts of Patricia Stoneking, a member of the board of directors of the Kansas State Rifle Association and legislative liaison for the Tri-County Rod and Gun Club.
She met with a resident of Greensburg when testimony on the bill, originally numbered HB-2811, was held earlier this year and heard about the gun “collection.” Stoneking began digging and forwarded a lengthy report to the NRA and Gun Week. Her allegations also made the rounds on several Internet forums and chat groups.
Stoneking found the reports to be “stupefying.”
“We had been told that there hadn’t been any problems, that everything was fine,” she recalled. “Everyone told us that the only guns that were picked up were the ones exposed. Nobody has any problems picking up (loose) guns.”
Others interviewed by Gun Week affirmed that opinion, explaining that with the town a mass of wreckage, it would make perfect sense for emergency crews and even local residents to pick up any firearms they found lying in the destruction, simply to assure that they did not fall into the wrong hands.
But Journey suggested that once authorities from surrounding communities moved in to “maintain order,” they did not maintain a perimeter around the flattened town and “keep thieves out.”
“A lot of firearms disappeared,” Journey said. “It was a dumb move to evacuate the town.”
Once Stoneking felt she had verified the account of Aaron Einsel, she told Gun Week that it was “probably a really good idea to get the ‘big guns’ involved.” That’s when she started contacting NRA and other gun rights groups.
Ultimately, she said, “nobody knows who issued what orders to do what.”
“It would be interesting to have that question answered,” Sen. Journey observed.
In her widely-circulated report, Stoneking said that Greensburg “was locked down tight for several days and no one was allowed in or out.”
“There were some houses that were not destroyed and were intact and habitable,” Stoneking wrote. “Those folks did not want to leave but were forced to do so. When they returned they found their houses had been broken into and all of their guns missing. One gentleman reports that when he went to claim his guns, taken from his secure home, they were returned to him in damaged condition. They were not damaged by the tornado. They were locked up in his home and illegally confiscated. So how do we suppose that damage occurred?”
Sorting fact from fiction and determining exactly what did happen in Greensburg following the tornado may take some time. Meanwhile, residents will be frustrated as they go about rebuilding their lives, but at least they have legislation that will prevent the kind of gun round-up alleged to have occurred in their community from ever happening again.
Martin and his wife sold their property in the town and now live about 12 miles outside of Greensburg in the home of a friend. But he knows from neighbors who had been monitoring police radio transmissions that night that lawmen had gone to his home and were trying to get into his gun safe.
But he is still angry about what happened. When he arrived on the outskirts of town on the morning of May 5, officers from various agencies said the area was under martial law.
“Nobody declared it,” Martin said. “If I’d have known it, I had a gun of my own in the car, and I’d (have) loaded it and gone in. Ain’t nobody going to keep me off my property.”
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