NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday it is lifting a ban on firearms at temporary housing parks built in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Under the new federal policy, which comes after complaints from Second Amendment groups, residents can possess and store firearms. Using weapons still is prohibited in the parks, said Butch Kinerney , a FEMA spokesman.
Gun rights groups had sought the change, saying the original policy violated Second Amendment protections for firearms ownership. Mr. Kinerney 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 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, La.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre 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.
Col. Greg Phares, chief sheriff's deputy in Baton Rouge, had asked for a firearms ban at the park.
"I never looked at it, and I don't look at it now, as a Second Amendment issue," Col. Phares said yesterday. "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 [Louisiana State University] football game."
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross yesterday said about 235,000 Katrina victims still are living in hotels across the country.
The organization also said it is turning administration of the hotel program over to FEMA, which is supposed to be paying for the rooms.
The Red Cross has not yet been reimbursed, spokeswoman Devorah Goldburg said. The total cost of the program was expected to reach between $225 million and $250 million by month's end.
Also yesterday, a judge temporarily blocked New Orleans landlords from evicting tenants unless hearings are held in, or very near, the city.
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.
Since shortly after Katrina battered the city, the court has been operating in Gonzales, roughly 60 miles west of New Orleans. The suit said thousands of renters do not have personal transportation to Gonzales.