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The US Virgin Islands National Guard adjutant general observes Operation Forward Guardian II (Image: Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Matson 87th Army Reserve Support Command)
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Island orders gun seizure ahead of Hurricane Irma
Reports emerged this week that Kenneth Mapp, the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has issued an order authorizing the island territory’s national guard to seize weapons and ammunition in advance of the approach of Hurricane Irma.
The order, which went into effect on September 5th, drew immediate and sharp criticism from both gun rights groups and constitutional advocates, including the National Rifle Association, who threatened an immediate lawsuit. Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a written statement, “People need the ability to protect themselves during times of natural disaster”, and “This dangerous order violates the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and puts their lives at risk.”
In an attempt to quell the public outrage, Governor Mapp tried to justify his decision during an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on September 6th. Said Mapp, “[The Adjutant General] has the authorization to spend government resources and acquire. We don’t seize property without due compensation to the property owner, after the appropriate assessment.”
Mapp’s statements during the interview tried to distinguish between “seizing weapons and other property that may be required by military forces”, and “seizing weapons and other property from citizens”, which Mapp pointed out was not mentioned in the executive order.
Mapp’s confusing attempts at explanation, however, does not change the actual wording of his order, nor its real world implications. The fact remains that his order explicitly authorizes local military forces to confiscate guns and ammunition. The order provides no distinction regarding from whom the guns may be seized. The order simply reads:
“The Adjutant General is authorized 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, in accordance with the Rules of Force promulgated by the Virgin Islands National Guard and approved by the Virgin Islands Department of Justice.”
Can local authorities seize guns in emergency situations?
Short answer: NO.
Governor Mapp’s order authorizes the Adjutant General of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard to seize guns, ammunition, and other private property. Despite his attempts to downplay the language of his order, it can be reasonably interpreted as being intended to seize guns from citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927. As residents of an unincorporated U.S. territory, the island residents may not vote in U.S. elections, but they enjoy the same rights and freedoms otherwise enjoyed by residents of New Jersey or Texas. They are also subject to U.S. law.
Governor Mapp cited the “Rules of Force promulgated by the Virgin Islands National Guard and approved by the Virgin Islands Department of Justice” as his authority for suspending citizen’s constitutional second amendment and due process rights
On the surface, the local U.S. Virgin Island laws appear to grant the Governor the authority to seize guns and ammunition once he has called the military forces of the island into “Territorial Active Military Service”.
Title 23 of the Virgin Island Code § 1522 states:
“Whenever the Governor orders part or all of the military forces of the Virgin Islands into Territorial Active Military Service under section 1519 he may, by written order– (1) Direct the Adjutant General or other appropriate authority to seize arms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary material, and any other property that may be required by the military forces.”
Thus, the local laws appear to permit the Governor to seize guns under “emergency disaster” situations referenced in section 1519, or “Whenever it becomes necessary, in case of disaster emergency, invasion, insurrection, [etc].”
However, as citizens of the United States, the residents of the Virgin Islands are also subject to U.S. federal laws, which have precedence over local laws. Under the 1976 Enabling Act, the island acknowledges “the supremacy of the provisions of the Constitution, treaties, and laws of the United States applicable to the Virgin Islands.”
This is an important statement, since under this Act, the “supremacy” of U.S. law is recognized by the U.S. Virgin Islands over local law.
2006 Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act
In 2005, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin signed an order similar to that signed by Governor Mapp, authorizing the seizure of guns in the approach of Hurricane Katrina.
The NRA filed a lawsuit after Katrina claiming New Orleans violated gun owners’ constitutional right to bear arms, leaving citizens “at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals”.
As a result of the lawsuit, the Congress introduced the 2006 Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act. The Act contains amendments that prohibits confiscation of weapons during an emergency. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 13, 2006.
As a result of the above, Governor Mapp’s order, despite being explicitly authorized under local Virgin Island law, appears to be nullified by the 2006 Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act.
Governor Mapp does not appear to have the authority to seize guns and ammunition during Hurricane Irma.
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Keywords: Hurricane Irma, Kenneth Mapp, National Rifle Association, Virgin Islands.