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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - July 13, 2006)

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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, this slightly modified amendment is the same amendment fundamentally that I described and talked about yesterday, only now it is fully germane--a pure limitation amendment which clearly can be and should be and will be considered and voted on in the context of this underlying bill.

It would prohibit law enforcement officers from confiscating firearms from those who are in lawful possession of them just because it is a disaster situation. It would not prevent funding for law enforcement officers who confiscate firearms because someone is in violation of Federal, State, or local law. It simply says, law enforcement cannot, under their powers because it is an emergency situation, start confiscating firearms which are completely legal, which have been obtained completely lawfully, by law-abiding citizens.

As I explained yesterday--and I want to repeat it very briefly now--we talk about second amendment rights. We talk about the right and the need in some cases to defend your life and property. That is why the second amendment offers such fundamental and important constitutional rights.

Yet at no time in our ordinary experience is that more important, more truly important, to the preservation and defense of one's life and property than in the sort of disaster situation we saw right after Hurricane Katrina.

In the aftermath of that disaster, there was no communication. The police were cut off from enforcing their duties in many neighborhoods. And there was no ability for law enforcement to come to a citizen's call in light of an emergency. So a law-abiding citizen truly did, in many instances, depend on his firearm, his lawfully obtained legal firearm, protected by the second amendment for the defense of his property and literally, in some cases, his life and his family's life.

Therefore, we should never allow the confiscation of those legal firearms in that desperate situation when they truly are essential for the preservation of life and property.

Again, my amendment is very simple and straightforward in that regard. As it has now been modified, it is fully germane within the bounds of this bill.

I look forward to my colleagues supporting it with a strong bipartisan vote because it is such a clear, commonsense, right thing to do.

With that, Madam President, I yield back my time.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I again stand to strongly support this amendment and urge my colleagues to vote for its passage.

I have only been able to listen to some of the comments of the distinguished Senator from Illinois. I really think he has been watching a very different disaster and scenario than I experienced and lived through on the ground in Louisiana. I can tell you that the confiscations we are talking about were not from the criminals he is referring to--by the way, confiscations from criminals who are engaged in criminal activity can still occur under my amendment. The police have the power and the authority to enforce the law, which includes apprehending criminals and taking weapons away from criminals committing criminal acts.

The confiscations I have been talking about that happened in the disaster area were from law-abiding citizens. They were law-abiding citizens who didn't have a phone line to communicate with the police or anyone else. They were law-abiding citizens who were isolated in their homes, frightened, and only had their own resources and witnesses and, yes, in some cases, firearms, to protect themselves and their families and to protect their possessions. Those are the confiscations that happened. Those are the confiscations we are trying to prevent.

And, of course, this amendment would in no way prevent confiscations from criminals, those involved in criminal activity. Of course, the police have the full power and authority to enforce the law in that situation, as they do at all other times.

That is why the Fraternal Order of Police strongly supports this amendment. That is why they have written a letter expressing that strong support. I would like to read a portion of it:

Your amendment would prohibit the use of any funds appropriated under this legislation from paying for the seizure of firearms during a major disaster or emergency, except under circumstances currently applicable under Federal and State law. As we witnessed in the communities along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, large-scale critical incidents demand the full attention of law enforcement officers and other first responders. During this time, the preservation of life-search and rescue missions is the chief priority of every first responder. Further, breakdowns in communications systems and disaster-related transportation or other infrastructure failures will lengthen a law enforcement agency's response times, increasing the degree to which citizens may have to protect themselves against criminals. A law-abiding citizen who possesses a firearm lawfully represents no danger to law enforcement officers or any other first responder.

That is why the Fraternal Order of Police are supporting this amendment, as well as, yes, the NRA, who supports this amendment. I say that proudly. I don't say it with any fear that it brings disrespect to the cause.

With that, I yield 5 minutes of my time to the Senator from Idaho.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, in closing and in support of my amendment, I wish to make four brief points.

First of all, I reiterate the widespread support for this amendment from many quarters, including the Fraternal Order of Police, a leading organization of law enforcement personnel. I ask unanimous consent that this strong letter of support be printed in the RECORD.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE,

Washington, DC, July 13, 2006.
Hon. DAVID VITTER,
U.S. Senate,
Washington, DC.

DEAR SENATOR VITTER: I am writing to you on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to advise you of our support for an amendment you intend to offer to H.R. 5441, the FY2007 appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Your amendment would prohibit the use of any funds appropriated under this legislation from paying for the seizure of firearms during a major disaster or emergency, except under circumstances currently applicable under Federal or State law. As we witnessed in the communities along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, large scale critical incidents demand the full attention of law enforcement officers and other first responders. During this time, the preservation of life-search and rescue missions--is the chief priority of every first responder. Further, breakdowns in communications systems and disaster-related transportation or other infrastructure failures will lengthen a law enforcement agency's response times, increasing the degree to which citizens may have to protect themselves against criminals. A law-abiding citizen who possess a firearm lawfully represents no danger to law enforcement officers or any other first responder.

On behalf of the more than 324,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I am pleased to offer our support for this amendment and look forward to working with you to getting it passed. If I can be of any further assistance on this issue, lease do not hesitate to contact me or Executive Director Jim Pasco in my Washington office.

Sincerely,

Chuck Canterbury,
National President.

Mr. VITTER. Secondly, Mr. President, I will also request that the following list be printed in the RECORD. It is a list of 10 States that have already passed State law doing exactly what we are going to do here on the floor of the Senate today, and that is simply say that a declaration or a state of emergency in and of itself does not give law enforcement the right to confiscate firearms held in legal possession. Ten States have already done that. One additional State, the State of Ohio, has pending legislation.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I wish to make a third point, which is that, quite frankly, I find it somewhat ironic that the Senator from Illinois would welcome more detailed language, as I did have in the earlier draft, because the reason we don't have slightly more detailed language on the floor is because of a rule XVI objection by the leadership, the Democratic leadership, those working against the amendment in conjunction with the Senator from Illinois. So they objected to more detailed language in one breath, and then after we redrafted the amendment to comply with Senate rules regarding germaneness, they object to less detailed language in the next. You can't have it both ways.

The fourth and final point is that the language we do have on the Senate floor goes to the heart of the issue and protects fundamental second amendment rights.

There is one point I strongly agree with the Senator from Illinois about, and that is that we are not talking about ordinary life in America, an ordinary day; we are talking about a time of emergency where everything is different, where the world is turned upside down.

It is exactly that very reason that this second amendment right to bear arms and use legally possessed firearms in defense of yourself, your life, and your property is so crucial, because you know what, your phone line in this very unique situation doesn't work, your cell phone and Blackberry don't work, there is no communication, and you can't reach out to the law enforcement authorities and have them there in a reasonable amount of time when your home is being broken into. All of that is gone. All of that is gone. The only thing that remains, in many instances, is your legally possessed firearm. That is the only thing for the defense of yourself, your life, your family's life and health, and your possessions. That is exactly why protecting this fundamental constitutional right is so very important, precisely for this sort of time of emergency.

The distinguished Senator from New Jersey made some remarks and read a letter talking about leaving it up to the judgment and discretion of law enforcement personnel. Well, I have great respect in general for law enforcement personnel, but I don't think their judgment or their discretion trumps the Constitution, and that is what happened and that is the attitude many of them took, unfortunately, after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. They thought their judgment and their discretion trumped the Constitution. They confiscated legally held firearms from law-abiding citizens, in some cases literally older, defenseless women, older citizens trapped in their homes with a legally possessed firearm as their only means of defense. That should never happen again. The Constitution, the second amendment, should never be abused again, particularly in such a state of emergency.

Mr. President, in closing, I urge all of my colleagues to support this commonsense, straightforward amendment. It is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, it is supported by the National Rifle Association, which intends to grade this vote, and I urge all Members to offer their support for this straightforward, commonsense amendment.

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