Local State Of Emergency Means You Could Lose Your Guns
Let’s say we are in a “State of Emergency” because, well, some calamity has occurred. Maybe it was rioting like in Ferguson, or a tornado hit Grovania, or there is a big sale at the mall. It can be any emergency really, one that appears likely to result in large scale loss of life, injury, property damage or destruction, or even something that disrupts community affairs, whatever that is (that big sale?). If the county chairman says it is an emergency, it is, right? So says Houston County’s Code of Ordinances and the chairman is the one and only Tommy Stalnaker. He’s a pretty level headed guy, which is good, because he gets all sorts of power.
So the chairman says we are in a SOE and therefore he has certain powers. The code has all sorts of fancy stuff the chairman can do, like deploy people to do emergency stuff. He can direct and compel evacuation of the population, prescribe routes of travel, declare schools or government buildings to be emergency shelters, or designate county employees to do different things than normal.
Why, he can do all sorts of things.The point is that Tommy has certain emergency powers that reasonable people would probably agree is a good thing. And he’s a great guy, so we can trust him, right?
He also has the power to take your guns.
I’m not sure why he feels the need to take your guns, but he could. County Code Section 26-62(d)(2) says he has the power “to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives and flammable liquids and substances.”
You might say that it’s not clear that he could “take” your guns, but if he can prohibit the transportation of our guns, could that not be that you are prohibited from transporting your gun from your safe to your front door? Seems like that would be transporting to me. Clearly the ordinance allows him to prohibit you from selling or loaning weapons to friends and neighbors.
I’m not sure why the county governing body needs that power. This isn’t an “old” law that nobody knew about or that these commissioners didn’t enact, this law was passed just two years ago. All of the commissioners who voted for it are the same bunch we have now. Yet they decided that during a SOE they could limit gun rights?
Fortunately there is a state law that makes the county’s ordinance invalid. OCGA 16-11-173 says that counties and cities may not enact laws which restrict gun rights. “(b)(1) … no county or municipal corporation, by zoning or by ordinance or resolution, … by rule or regulation shall regulate in any manner: (B) The possession, ownership, transport, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing, or registration of firearms or other weapons or components of firearms or other weapons;” Trust me, the county’s law is so illegal that even they wouldn’t try to defend it if they got sued.
The question isn’t this insane law, but the mindset that begets such a law. Why wouldn’t that gun restriction have jumped out at someone on the commission who says “Hey, I got a problem with this!” Because too many people see the right to bear arms as aspirational or conditional instead of a God given right. If the proposed ordinance had said “In a SOE, the chairman may restrict your right to worship, to free speech or eat spaghetti”, I doubt the commissioners would have thought that was appropriate. But restricting gun rights? No problem.
Oh yeah, the governing bodies of Warner Robins, Centerville and Perry have the same “take your guns” law. The only city in Houston County that doesn’t have the “anti-gun” philosophy is Byron. They enacted almost the same SOE law as everyone else, but they didn’t go after your guns.
Let’s start the new year off the right way and rescind that SOE law that pretends to do away with gun rights. That’d be something to cheer about.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice where he focuses on personal injury cases. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles about the law that you’d like to see.