The National Rifle Association (NRA) has threatened to take legal action after US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp signed an emergency order allowing the National Guard to seize guns and ammunition in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
Under the temporary legislation authorities would be allowed to take privately owned weapons they may need to respond to Hurricane Irma.
But Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’S legal department, said: “People need the ability to protect themselves during times of natural disaster. This dangerous order violates the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and puts their lives at risk.”
He added that when emergency services were “nonexistent and law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed with search-and-rescue missions and other emergency duties, law-abiding American citizens must be able to protect their families and loved ones.”
As a result he said the NRA was “prepared to pursue legal action to halt Govenor Mapp’s dangerous and unconstitutional order.”
The order, signed by Mr Mapp and obtained by The Daily Caller website, says: “The Adjutant General is authorised and directed to seize arms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary material and any other property that may be required by the military forces for the performance of this emergency mission.”
It adds that it was necessary to grant the powers to “maintain or restore public order, and to guarantee the safety of life and property.”
The US Virgin Islands are currently under a state of emergency, as is Puerto Rico and Florida.
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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin signed a similar directive allowing police officers to confiscate weapons from civilians.
Then, the NRA accused the city of violating gun owners’ constitutional right to bear arms and leaving them “at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals”.
The US Congress later passed a bill banning the seizure of weapons by the authorities after the NRA complained.