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Firearms ban lifted at FEMA camps

NEW ORLEANS -- Following complaints from gun rights groups, FEMA said yesterday it is lifting a ban on firearms at emergency housing parks built after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Under the new federal policy, residents can possess and store firearms. Use of weapons is still prohibited in the parks, said Butch Kinerny, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gun rights groups had sought the change, saying the original policy violated Second Amendment protections for gun ownership. Kinerny said FEMA made the change after consulting with lawyers.

FEMA said it has been general policy for several years to prohibit guns at such parks anywhere in the country. But two gun rights groups -- the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation -- said they found out about it only this month as a 600-trailer encampment opened near Baton Rouge.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, praised the change. ''It is wrong to force citizens to give up their constitutional rights in order for them to get a needed federal benefit," he said in a news release.

Colonel Greg Phares, chief sheriff's deputy in Baton Rouge, had asked for a firearms ban at the park. He expressed frustration yesterday, saying FEMA gave him conflicting information on whether there was such a ban in the first place. He also said gun rights groups overreacted.

''I never looked at it, and I don't look at it now, as a Second Amendment issue," Phares said. ''We had asked for FEMA to say firearms would not be permitted on site, just as you can't bring firearms into the federal building, into the Legislature in Baton Rouge, into an LSU football game."

Yolanda Vaughn, who along with her husband, Dwain, moved into the park earlier this month after evacuating from the New Orleans area, said she could see both sides of the gun issue.

''Dwain and I have never had a gun, so that's OK for us, but I do realize there are people who need to protect themselves," she said. ''But if a person loses control, they may hurt somebody."

Meanwhile yesterday, with thousands of New Orleans residents facing possible eviction, a judge temporarily blocked landlords from forcing out tenants unless hearings are held close to home.

The judge acted in a lawsuit filed by community activist groups who contend state law requires eviction hearings to be held in New Orleans.

Landlords have been filing eviction suits, saying they have thousands of apartments that could help remedy a severe housing shortage cited as a major obstacle to getting employee-hungry businesses running. Many tenants who fled the region have not contacted their landlords.

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