U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Signs Order to Seize Guns Ahead of Hurricane Irma-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp signed an order allowing the National Guard to seize weapons and ammo from citizens as Hurricane Irma bore down on the island in early September 2017.

The Truth:

The governor of the U.S. Virgin Island signed an order allowing the National Guard to seize guns, ammo and explosive if needed in Hurricane Irma disaster recovery efforts — but the governor later said the emergency order had been misconstrued and he simply meant to authorize the National Guard to “procure” weapons and ammo.

And, after initial reports about U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp’s emergency order, a number of websites and media outlets falsely reported that the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard had begun seizing guns from private citizens. That’s not true.

The story  first appeared at the Daily Caller, a website founded by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, on September 5, 2017. The article, which appeared under the headline, “Virgin Island Allows National Guard to Seize Guns, Ammo Ahead of Hurricane Irma,” correctly reported that Mapp signed the emergency order:

Mapp signed the order Monday in preparation for Hurricane Irma. The order allows the Adjutant General of the Virgin Islands to seize private property they believe necessary to protect the islands, subject to approval by the territory’s Justice Department.

In signing the emergency declaration, Mapp evoked Title 23, Section 1520 of Virgin Islands Code, which orders the National guard into “Territorial Active Military services.” That gives the Adjutant General broad power to take whatever action deemed necessary to complete the mission, according to a PDF obtained by the Daily Caller:

An emergency order signed by the U.S. Virgin Islands governor appears to authorize the seizure of guns and ammo, but the governor claims it was misconstrued.

In an appearance on Carlson’s Fox News show on September 6th, however, Mapp said the emergency order had been misconstrued. Although the order refers to “seizing” weapons, Mapp said it didn’t make any mention of private citizens, and that he had only meant to authorize the National Guard to procure weapons from other sources:

“I did not order or authorize the Adjutant General of the Virgin Islands National Guard to seize any weapons from any citizens, and I do not have the power — by Virgin Islands law or by the Constitution of the United States — to seize weapons from citizens via the military. (The Adjutant General) has the authorization to spend government resources and acquire. We don’t seize property without due compensation to the property owner, after the appropriate assessment.”

Within days, the story had been picked up and re-reported by countless websites. Again, many reported that weapons were already being seized, which wasn’t accurate. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, for example, filed a story under the headline, “U.S. Virgin Islands Seizing Guns, Ammo in Anticipation of Irma.” And that’s where the story jumped the rails from truth to fiction.  We couldn’t find any evidence that seizures had begun, or that citizens had been ordered to turnover their weapons.

By the morning of September 8th, Hurricane Irma had plowed through the U.S. Virgin Islands, leaving a trail of destruction and at least three deaths. There was no indication that the National Guard had seized guns, or was planning to seize guns, in the immediate aftermath. Moving patients from a damaged hospital and restoring power were listed as top priorities, NPR reports:

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the government in the territory reported three fatalities on the main island of St. Thomas.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp said the U.S. territory had sustained “significant devastation.”

“Sustained winds of 150 mph, gusts higher than that, for three or four hours is devastating,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Mapp said a number of fire and police stations were wiped out and hospitals and medical facilities were damaged.

In a statement, the government in the capital, Charlotte Amalie, said, “The evacuation of patients from the heavily damaged Roy Lester Schneider Hospital of St. Thomas continues. Critical patients are being relocated to the Juan F. Louis Hospital on St. Croix, while others will be evacuated to hospitals nearby in Puerto Rico. U.S. military aircraft are being used to provide transport.”

“A major priority continues to be the restoration of power,” the statement said, adding that Mapp plans an overflight of St. Thomas and St. John to assess damage.

So, while it’s true that U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp signed an emergency order that could potentially allow for weapons, ammunition, explosives and personal property to be seized to help in disaster recovery efforts — reports that gun seizures had already begun are false.

Hurrican Irma Virgin Islands
Social media users react to false reports that the U.S. Virgin Islands had began seizing guns.