n late July, the House passed a bill (H.R. 5013) designed to guarantee that lawful gun owners would be allowed to keep their firearms during and after major disasters, such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
The bill would prohibit federal, state, or local authorities, during the response to an emergency situation, from temporarily or permanently seizing any lawful firearm from citizens in the affected area. The limitations apply to federal law enforcement or military officers, along with local police that receive federal funds.
The bill also institutes a private cause of action against any agency or officer who seized lawful weapons in an emergency situation. Consequently, law enforcement agencies and officers would be held personally liable if they mistakenly confiscate a lawful firearm during an emergency. Consequently, the IACP opposes this legislation.
The bill was amended before passage to address concerns raised during the markup in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The substitute language clarifies that the bill would not force a rescue worker to allow a lawfully possessed firearm onboard a rescue vehicle, such as a boat or helicopter.
It also specifies that the bill would not supersede existing state and local prohibitions. Some lawmakers had expressed concerns that the bill would trump tougher state or local laws.
An amendment containing similar language was passed by the Senate during consideration of the fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill (H.R. 5441).
Opponents, including the IACP, argued that the bill could make it harder for law enforcement officials to maintain order during a crisis. For example, the bill would prevent police from picking up guns that could be seized by looters and would also prevent state or local governments from prohibiting individuals from bringing firearms into emergency shelters.
Proponents of the bill maintain that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement officers in Louisiana confiscated firearms from law-abiding gun owners. But New Orleans law enforcement officials defended their actions, saying very few guns were confiscated and that widespread disarming did not occur.
Proponents of the bill recently announced that they were launching a nationwide campaign demanding that police chiefs and mayors pledge never to confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens in the wake of disasters such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
In response to this effort, the IACP Executive Committee approved a statement outlining the association's opposition to the pledge campaign and the IACP's opposition to a series of firearms-related bills that would significantly degrade law enforcement's ability to combat the illegal use of guns and illegal firearms trafficking.
For a copy of the IACP statement on the Gun Confiscation Pledge Campaign, please visit the IACP Web site at (www.theiacp.org).
House, Senate Leadership Still Searching for Immigration Compromise
With this congressional session drawing to a close, congressional leaders are still trying to find a compromise on the politically charged issue of immigration. The House and Senate have passed competing immigration bills, and both sides appear entrenched in their positions.
The House bill (H.R. 4437) focuses on tougher enforcement of immigration laws and tightening the borders. In contrast, the Senate bill (S. 2611) would create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, in addition to increasing border security and tougher enforcement.
It has proven extremely difficult to reach a compromise on the two bills. Conservatives in the House strongly oppose the guest worker and citizenship provisions in the Senate bill, calling them far too lenient on illegal immigrants. Contributing to the stalemate is the fact that the White House has insisted that the bill include both enforcement and legalization provisions.
The House bill contains several provisions of interest to law enforcement. It makes it a felony to be in the United States without a valid visa and provides for stiff penalties for anyone who helps illegal immigrants. It also includes provisions of the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal (Clear) Act. The provisions are intended to increase the number of local law enforcement agencies that enforce federal immigration law during officers' "routine course of duty."
Both bills authorize new grant programs for law enforcement agencies but differ in their scope and purpose. The Senate bill would authorize grants to local law enforcement agencies confronting significant border-or immigration-related crime problems. The House bill would authorize grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies that enforce federal immigration law and border security.
With so little time left in the session, it appears unlikely that a compromise will be reached before the election.
House Leaders Agree on FEMA Reform
House leaders have tentatively reached a compromise on competing proposals to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After the response to Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers have considered legislation that would give the agency more autonomy in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or remove it from the department altogether.
The compromise bill would largely reflect the view of the Homeland Security Committee. On May 17, the committee passed a bill (H.R. 5351) that would turn FEMA into the Directorate of Emergency Management but keep it in the Department of Homeland Security. This provision was strongly supported by the IACP.
Lawmakers on the committee argued that while FEMA clearly needs improvement, removing it from DHS would just cause more problems. The Bush administration also supports keeping FEMA in DHS.
As a result of the compromise agreement, House leaders have declined to bring to the floor a bill passed by two other major House committees that would have removed FEMA or any successor agency from the Department of Homeland Security. Under the bill (H.R. 5316) passed by the Government Reform Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, FEMA would have become an independent cabinet-level agency under the control of the White House. This is how the agency functioned before it was moved into the newly created DHS.
Both bills, and presumably the compromise bill, would give FEMA control of both disaster response and emergency preparedness, which were separated by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last year during a reorganization of the agency. ■