Lisa Anderson, Michael Martinez, and Ray Quintanilla, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 8
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gun sales across the South boomed after the first reports surfaced of armed looters roaming the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And images of shots being fired at relief workers only elevated fears in some communities.
Now, as hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes are being resettled, gun store owners say they’re being flooded by a demand for guns — particularly in Southern states and others where many of the hurricane victims are being relocated.
Mostly, they say, the demand is being fueled by “good people” wanting to protect their families and property. That includes some who might not otherwise purchase such weapons, they add.
Frank Pirie says his Baton Rouge store, Bowie Outfitters, is being inundated by people seeking handguns and shotguns in the storm’s aftermath. “It’s probably as many as we’d sell in almost a year,” he said.
But sales are particularly brisk among men and women in Baton Rouge who are growing concerned about a wave of newcomers into their community — most of whom arrive with little more than the clothes on their back.
“They’re saying this is racist, ma’am, but that’s not true,” said Pirie, adding that in recent days he has sold guns to both whites and blacks.
“People are just nervous. There is a certain element that was down in New Orleans that has been displaced.” Among the good people, he and others fear, is a criminal element that includes drug dealers who have lost their jobs and people who steal for a living.
The FBI, which conducts criminal background checks on those wanting to buy guns, says it’s too early to tell whether a surge in gun sales is taking place in Louisiana or anyplace else. In any case, there is no shortage of homeowners putting up signs that read “Looters will be shot on sight.”
On the ground, there is mounting evidence to suggest firearms are a hot commodity. Take the neighborhood surrounding the Astrodome in Houston, where gun stores say they’re selling at a brisk pace.
“Basically, what we are seeing is people who are just afraid,” said Valde Garcia, manager of Bailey’s House of Guns near the Astrodome, where thousands of Katrina’s victims have been housed temporarily.