In Era of Disasters, NRA Makes a Plea for Guns

At its national convention in Milwaukee, the NRA is expected to demand that police chiefs and mayors pledge never to confiscate legally held weapons following disasters such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks. The NRA is also calling on state legislatures and Congress to make that effort a crime. Gun control advocates call such a move outrageous.

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The National Rifle Association is concerned about the rights of gun owners after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The NRA wants cities to promise that they won't confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens after a big storm or earthquake or terrorist attack. The group is getting ready for its annual convention. It's being held in Milwaukee this year.

Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH reporting:

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans last year, some local residents expressed fear that looters and other criminals would attack them or their property. River pilot Charles Clayson told NPR last fall that he made sure he stayed close to his gun.

Mr. CHARLES CLAYSON (River pilot): If we didn't have a means to protect ourselves, I don't know if I'd have stayed here. You know, I might have gotten out.

QUIRMBACH: But the National Rifle Association claims it has proof that numerous law-abiding citizens in the New Orleans area were ordered by law enforcement to give up their weapons. In fact, the NRA sued the police department and says police did begin returning some of the weapons that were confiscated. New Orleans police say they only took guns that had been stolen or found in abandoned homes. But the NRA disputes that and says action is needed to protect gun owners' rights in times of emergency.

In a move sure to be controversial, it's asking mayors and police chiefs around the U.S. to sign a pledge that they won't forcibly disarm citizens after a terrorist attack or natural disaster. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre says the choice is simple.

Mr. WAYNE LAPIERRE (National Rifle Association): Americans once and for all will find out whose side their local leaders are on. And so will rank and file and military officers. Do they agree with us or what are we going to face in the future?

QUIRMBACH: The second part of the NRA's campaign is to push for state and federal legislation making it a crime to forcibly disarm law-abiding citizens. NRA lobbyist Chris Cox says violators should go to prison.

Mr. CHRIS COX (National Rifle Association): You're not going to get your hand slapped. You're not going to get a scolding from a judge a few months down the line or maybe a fine. You're going to be arrested and you're going to jail.

QUIRMBACH: Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett says he has no plans to risk going to jail. He's joined a coalition of big city mayors that's taking on the problems of gun violence. Mayor Barrett says he's not going to go against police who say they need to keep order.

Mayor TOM BARRETT (Milwaukee): In a natural disaster, in a terrorist attack, we're going to be working hand-in-hand to preserve the safety of the individuals who live here. That's what I'm going to do.

QUIRMBACH: While some gun control groups accuse the NRA of returning to fear tactics, the confiscation issue certainly appears to play to the NRA's base.

This morning Scott Hooper fired his 9mm handgun in the shooting range at Badger Outdoors, one of Wisconsin's largest gun shops. After piercing a target hanging from the ceiling, Hopper says he wants to have a gun handy in any emergency.

Mr. SCOTT HOOPER (Gun owner): I don't think I'd do anything out of the ordinary like create a lockdown of my block or anything crazy like that. But I mean we have to protect our friends, family, neighbors.

QUIRMBACH: The NRA is sending copies of pledge forms to local officials around the country and sending the forms home with the thousands of NRA members attending the convention here.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

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