It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions, real or pretended.... There are men in all ages who mean to exercise power usefully—but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern; they promise to be kind masters, but they mean to be masters. – Daniel Webster (ht: Jim Leth)There was considerable outrage last week when Mayor Nagin directed the remnants of the New Orleans Police Department to confiscate legally-owned firearms from law-abiding residents of New Orleans. Nagin justified the move as a means of re-establishing control over the city and avoiding resistance to his policy of forcibly evacuating city residents. In order to carry out the Mayor's policy, the NOPD, assisted by federal marshals and military police, have forcibly entered private households without probable cause or a warrant and seized lawfully-owned private property.
The uproar over this policy was immediate and widespread. DavidKopel, a noted constitutional attorney, quickly pointed out that the Mayor's order was illegal on both procedurally and constitutionally. The NRA got into the act a few days later:
"The NRA will not stand idly by while guns are confiscated from law-abiding people who’re trying to defend themselves," he [Chris Cox, NRA-ILA director] said.
"We’re exploring every legal option available to protect the rights of lawful people in New Orleans," Cox said, "and we’re taking steps to overturn such laws in every state where they exist."
Here we are, a week later, and after considerable furor, it seems that the confiscation policy has been effectively, if not explicitly, rescinded. No more confiscations are occurring, and the federal government announced that it would not allow its military or civilian personnel to assist the city forcibly evacuate non-willing residents. Hopefully, they have also been told to refrain from any other type of constitutionally dubious actions. Of course, under Louisiana state law the Mayor would have to repeatedly re-issue his order (there is considerable doubt whether he legally issued the order in the first place) every five days. Thank God the state legislature realized that one way to reign in out-of-control officials who enacted idiotic policies during emergencies was to give those policies a very short lifetime.
This is America! Time for a lawsuit! A massive lawsuit against the Mayor, the City of New Orleans, and any federal agency that was involved in this clearly unconstitutional policy is the proper, legitimate means of discouraging future acts of stupidity by panicked, incompetent officials. Contact everyone who suffered under this odious policy and make it a class-action suit.
Oh, and something else needs to happen: gun owners in New Orleans should organize a petition drive to recall the Mayor and call for new mayoral elections. Set up a website to contact evacuees, and get this ball rolling ASAP.
What's that, you say? The mayor was trying to do what he thought was best for the city? Doesn't cut it; the mayor has legal advisors that should have been consulted and that should have strongly advised him against such a policy. Incompetence, ignorance, or capriciousness... none are a valid excuse.
Here in America the ends don't justify the means. New Orleans is a beautiful city with a unique and vibrant culture that has been woefully mismanaged for decades. Many areas are effectively lawless, and the police literally will not go into certain neighborhoods unless they move in with overwhelming force to handle a specific complaint. These neighborhoods are effectively ceded to the control of the thugs who terrorize innocent residents, and the city's murder rate makes it the Homicide Capital of America for two years in a row. Yet we don't solve the problem by cordoning these areas off and napalming them. To any reasonably-informed and thinking American (which, it seems, excludes Mayor Nagin), kicking people's doors in, lining them up against the wall at gunpoint, searching the household for guns, and taking the guns without probable cause is obviously unconstititutional and equally repugnant. Mayor Nagin's approach seems to be "So much for the rule of law if it gets in the way of what I think is a good idea."
America is what it is because it was the first nation-state in the history of the world to govern itself by the rule of law, and to declare individual rights as inviolable: all men are created equal under the law and are guaranteed certain rights, among them the right of freedom of speech and thought, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right against self-incrimination, the right to due process, and lastly the right to keep and bear arms. The anarchy following the complete disintegration of civil authority in New Orleans after Katrina is a prime example of why, in order to protect their right to life and property, law-abiding residents needed to exercise their right to keep and bear arms.
The stories coming out of the city about how people were able to protect themselves and drive off looters speaks volumes for the relevance of the Second Amendment and the wisdom of our country's founders. Sadly, the story of police-state tactics and the trampling of fundamental rights speaks volumes, too... and it's all bad.
I grew up in small-town south Louisiana and spent several years living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge during and after college, so I think it's fair to say I have a reasonably good idea of what's wrong with the state, and how to fix it. To my friends in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana, I say this: you deserve better! Fix the problem. Get rid of the idiots and quit electing them! And hold the current idiots responsible for all of their lapses, constitutional and otherwise!
Update (19 Sept 05): Michelle Malkin has some comments on the subject that are worth reading (read the referenced articles, also). And, it looks like the idea of holding leaders responsible is gaining popularity. But don't forget about Nagin! (ht: Instapundit)