WASHINGTON – The House voted Tuesday to prevent law enforcement officers from confiscating legally owned guns during a national disaster or emergency.
Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said firearms seizures after Hurricane Katrina left residents unable to defend themselves.
"Many of them were sitting in their homes without power, without water, without communication," he said. "It was literally impossible to pick up a phone and call 911."
The House voted 322-99 in support of the bill. Senators voted 84-16 earlier this month to include a similar prohibition in a homeland security funding bill.
The limitation would apply to federal law enforcement or military officers, along with local police that receive federal funds.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., repeatedly called the bill "insane."
He and some Democrats said the bill might satisfy the gun lobby, but it would put people into more danger during already perilous disasters.
"The streets of an American city immediately after a disaster are no place to abandon common sense," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed the measure. In a letter to Jindal, National President Chuck Canterbury said law enforcement officials concentrate on search and rescue during major disasters, and breakdowns in communications and transportation can lengthen police response times to calls.
"A law-abiding citizen who possesses a firearm lawfully represents no danger to law enforcement officers or any other first responder," Canterbury wrote.
The National Rifle Association also supported the bill and has been asking police chiefs and mayors to pledge they will not forcibly disarm law-abiding citizens.
Jindal said the bill does not inhibit police from enforcing gun laws, nor does it overwrite state and local laws prohibiting people from bringing guns into shelters.
Nadler said the bill would prevent police from pickup up guns that could be seized by looters. Police and other law enforcement officials could face a personal lawsuit for picking up guns they later found to be legally owned, he said.
The bill allows the Coast Guard to require that people surrender their weapons before boarding a rescue vehicle.