People across New Orleans are arming themselves—not only against the possibility of another storm bringing anarchy, but against the violence that has engulfed the metropolitan area in the 19 months since Katrina, making New Orleans the nation’s murder capital.
The number of permits issued to carry concealed weapons is running twice as high as it was before Katrina—this, in a city with about half its pre-storm population of around 450,000.
Attendance at firearms classes and hours logged at shooting ranges also are up, according to the gun industry.
Gun dealers who saw sales shoot up during the chaotic few months after Katrina say that sales are still brisk, and that the customers are a cross-section of the population—doctors, lawyers, bankers, artists, laborers, stay-at-home moms.
National Guardsmen and state police are patrolling the streets of New Orleans. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, which posted a record 66 homicides in 2006, the sheriff sent armored vehicles to protect high-crime neighborhoods.
In New Orleans, police have accused the district attorney of failing to prosecute many suspects. Prosecutors have accused the police of not bringing them solid cases.
In New Orleans, the number of concealed-carry permits issued jumped from 432 in 2003-04 to 832 in 2005-06. In Jefferson Parish, 522 permits were issued in 2003-04 and 1,362 in 2005-06.
Mike Mayer, owner of Jefferson Indoor Range and Gun Outlet in suburban Metairie, said that despite the dropoff in population, sales are up about 38 percent since Katrina.
Just how many guns are out there is anybody’s guess. Gun buyers in Louisiana are not required to register their weapon or obtain a concealed-carry permit if they keep the gun in their house or car.
In a measure of how dangerous New Orleans is becoming, guns are finding their way into criminal hands at an alarming rate. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “time-to-crime” analysis of the interval between the legal sale of a gun and the time it is seized in a crime investigation is five years on average around the nationwide, said ATF spokesman Austin Banks. In New Orleans, time-to-crime is six months, he said.
This sometimes happens because of “straw purchases,” in which a buyer obtains a gun for someone not legally eligible to purchase one. Many guns also are stolen from homes and cars.
While many are buying guns for protection, only two defensive killings of criminals by civilians took place in New Orleans in 2006, according to police.
No charges were filed against the shooters.