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Turning Tragedy Into Travesty

Tuesday, September 20, 2005




Update--On Friday, September 23, 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey for the Eastern District in Louisiana granted NRA's request to bar further gun confiscations from law-abiding victims of Hurricane Katrina. Judge Zainey further ordered ther return of previously confiscated firearms to their lawful owners.


Imagine yourself marooned in this hellish nightmare of helplessness:

Hurricane Katrina has shredded your hometown down to bare foundations.

You have no power. No refrigeration. No A/C. No running water.

Phone lines are down, cell towers out. You can't call anyone. No one can call you. 9-1-1 is MIA. Police are nowhere around. Bands of armed looters, thugs and rapists roam the streets with hard eyes and hungry looks.

Every outbound road and bridge is impassable. Leaving is impossible. But staying is unimaginable. Because for tonight, anyway, living has been reduced to its barest, bleakest essentials: Fresh water, some food and survival against those who would take your home, your wife, your child or your life.

When darkness falls, you huddle in the sweltering, pitch-black night--your lanterns and flashlights extinguished to save batteries and fuel, your windows and doors wide open, in hopes of a cooling whiff of fresh air.

And there, you listen and look out on a civilization utterly transformed, where not a single streetlight burns, no car passes and the only sounds are the drone of a few generators, occasional shouts and gunshots in the dark.

Amid the chaos, you and a few neighbors who own guns have stepped forward--as civic-minded citizens have done since civilization was born--to protect those who can't protect themselves or their property.

You help where you can. Where you can't, you hold out and pray.

By the time authorities finally arrive a week later, they set about dismantling the one levee that stands between utter anarchy and you and your family- the Second Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms--by vowing to confiscate your firearms and those of your neighbors.

This is New Orleans, September 2005: Where the most fundamental human freedom is all that stands between humanity and inhumanity, savagery and safety--and where authorities have vowed to raze that lifesaving safeguard.-----


The situation we're seeing in New Orleans represents a complete vindication of everything we've been saying in defense of the Second Amendment," said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

"All throughout history, what you have in the aftermath of disasters like Katrina is mayhem, looting, robbing, raping and killing by the evildoers, along with a complete breakdown of government's ability to protect people from those who would do them harm," LaPierre said. "That's exactly what the Right to Keep and Bear Arms was intended to address. The Second Amendment is the underpinning of citizens' efforts to stay alive."

Yet according to The New York Times and other media outlets, New Orleans authorities began seizing firearms from lawful citizens precisely when they needed them the most.

"No one will be able to be armed," said New Orleans Superintendent of Police P. Edwin Compass. "Guns will be taken. Only law enforcement will be allowed to have guns." All firearms--lawfully owned or not-- would be seized, he said.

Ironically, Compass added, "there's nothing more important than the preservation of human life"-- ignoring the reality that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms was the only protection citizens had against violent predators roaming New Orleans.

"When law enforcement isn't available, Americans turn to the one right that protects all the others--the Right to Keep and Bear Arms," LaPierre said. "If authorities are denying the Second Amendment rights of lawful citizens- especially during a crisis like this--those authorities should be condemned and their actions immediately reversed."

NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox addressed the legal, tactical dimensions of any firearm confiscations in New Orleans. Louisiana state law does allow the chief law enforcement officer to "regulate possession" of firearms during declared emergencies, Cox noted, "but 'regulate' doesn't mean confiscate," he said.

"Armed gangs of from eight to 15 young men are riding around in pickup trucks, looting and raping."

"We're exploring every legal option available to protect the rights of lawful people in New Orleans," Cox added, "and we're immediately taking steps to overturn laws that allow that kind of oppression in every state where they exist." "This isn't just about New Orleans, Mississippi or the Gulf Coast," added LaPierre. "It's about all of our rights as Americans and, for that matter, as human beings, to defend ourselves from harm when no one else can or will. "the lesson of New Orleans is that citizens must be able to rely on their own ability to survive. The answer once and for all to politicians who say Americans don't need the Second Amendment, government will protect you, the answer forevermore is New Orleans."

For many New Orleans residents, a firearm is all that stands between them and marauding bands of thugs. Now the police are intent on disarming the city's law-abiding, leaving them defenseless and at the mercy of criminals.

Descent into Mayhem

Withone of the highest murder rates in the United States, New Orleans has long been one of the roughest towns around. Katrina didn't help.

Within hours of the hurricane's landfall on the Gulf Coast, looters had begun breaking into stores and homes. But what the media were quick to characterize as a simple search for water, food and the essentials of survival quickly degenerated into rampant theft , rape, vandalism and violence.

Looters ran down a state police truck filled with food. Carjackers seized the bus from the Covenant Home nursing facility, then gangs of people drove by the nursing home, shouting, "Get out!" at residents-- who did.

The home's executive director, Peggy Hoffman, said, "We had enough food for 10 days. Now we'll have to equip our department heads with guns and teach them how to shoot." Louisiana State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Cathy Flinchum said criminals were filing fake emergency reports to draw police away from places where they planned to commit crimes.

One criminal with a long arrest record was charged with raping a 13-year-old mentally handicapped girl from New Orleans at an Assembly of God campground.

A police officer was murdered.

A rescue helicopter was attacked.

Police killed at least four people who had assaulted u.s. Army Corps of Engineers contractors who were crossing a bridge to try to close a gap in the 17th Street Canal.

Captain Jeff Winn of the New Orleans Police swat team said, "Armed gangs of from eight to 15 young men are riding around in pickup trucks, looting and raping." Policeman Charles Hoffacker, whose beat includes Bourbon Street, said that at times, "it was like Mogadishu."

Within a week, for whatever reason, hundreds of New Orleans police had gone awol, and two--including the department's spokesman--had committed suicide.

According to Sgt. Stephen Villere, night-patrol commander for the French Quarter, "It felt like a year, not a week."

The "Hue and Cry" that Keeps the Peace

Faced with this total breakdown in civil order, residents throughout the Gulf Coast quickly took steps to protect property, life and limb.

In Gulfport, Miss., one of the hurricane's hardest-hit areas, after police reported that looters had completely cleaned out a nearby strip mall, resident Billy Bova and his neighbor took down the plywood covering their windows, and painted signs: "My best friends are Smith & Wesson," and "Owner home and will kill." Standing guard one night, Bova reported seeing several young men roaming the neighborhood carrying backpacks after curfew. "We pointed our Mag-Lites at them, and they saw our shotguns and rifle, and they took off running."

In effect, in the aftermath of Katrina, in much of Louisiana and Mississippi, peaceable armed citizens like Bova and his neighbor kept the peace as well as peace of mind.

9-1-1 didn't exist, and police who were there advised citizens that they wouldn't be around to answer any calls for help.

This real-life experience mirrors National Science Foundation funded research in the wake of Hurricane Andrew's devastation of South Florida in 1993. Interviewing residents, researchers found that, "those who did have firearms gained a sense of security from them, even when they were never confronted with an intruder or any other situation where the fi rearms were actually needed." "We've got a lot of single mothers with kids in the neighborhood," Bova said, "so we'd walk through at dusk, make sure everyone was safe, and let them know that we'd be around. with no air conditioning, everybody's doors and windows were open. So we said, 'If you have any trouble, just scream. We'll hear you.'" In the Garden District of New Orleans, residents John Carolan and Charlie Hackett armed themselves with a pistol and shotgun to deter looters. At one point, three men appeared at Carolan's home, showed him a machete and asked him about his generator. Carolan showed them his pistol. they didn't pursue things further.

In the city's French Quarter, resident Joe Campiere tried for seven days before he finally reached police through 9-1-1. the three Texas officers who arrived on horseback after that were the first Campiere had seen since the hurricane. "I tell you, I've been terrified," he told the Christian Science Monitor, a holstered pistol at his side.

Across the Mississippi from the French Quarter, in the historic neighborhood of Algiers Point, after a resident was carjacked on the day after Katrina struck, several neighbors worked together to protect their homes. they armed themselves and patrolled the streets by day, and at night they took turns standing guard over their part of the lawless city.

It worked: Looters left , presumably to look for easier pickings.

Resident Alexandra Boza posted a sign on her front porch reading, "Pit Bull Will Attack. We Are Here and Have Gun and Will Shoot." "I'm a part of the militia," she said, perhaps not realizing that her statement was true in the most accurate, historical sense of the Second Amendment.

Police suddenly body-slammed the elderly woman into her kitchen wall, sending dishes and a trashcan flying. Then they confiscated the gun and dragged her out of her home.

As Thomas Paine put it in 1775, "Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property Horrid mischief would ensue were (the law-abiding) deprived of the use of them." Tragically, horrid mischief still awaited the besieged residents of the Gulf.

Dispossessing Victims, Disarming the Defenseless

It was a week after Katrina struck before many New Orleans residents saw any of the thousands of federal, state and local emergency officials-- from the California Highway Patrol to the NYPD, the 82nd Airborne to the National Guard--who'd been dispatched to help them.

First those forces were focused on search and rescue. then they aimed at deterring and detaining looters.

Finally they were detailed, under Mayor Ray Nagin's order, to evacuate the Big Easy--willingly or not.

Then, 11 days after Katrina hit, local police began confiscating firearms from civilians in preparation for a forced evacuation of the last holdouts.

"We are going to take all the weapons," Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley told the Associated Press.

But many residents didn't want to leave, for fear of losing their pets, their possessions or their homes.

Fox News cameras caught one violent confiscation on tape. Police entered the residence of an elderly woman, Patricia Konie, demanding evacuation. "I don't want you in here, period," she said, pointing out her street was dry, she had adequate food and water, and if looters came, she had a gun.

When the police asked to see her gun, she showed them a small revolver, which she carefully held safely in her palm--no hand on the grip or finger on the trigger.

Police suddenly body-slammed the elderly woman into her kitchen wall, sending dishes and a trashcan flying.

Then they confiscated the gun and dragged her out of her home, dazed and staggering, for processing.

New Orleans attorney Ashton O'Dwyer, whose house was intact and who had plenty of food and water, also tried to resist, as shown in a CNN.com segment. "Let them be warned," he said. "they try to come to my house, they try to evict me, they try to take my guns, there will be gunfire." Yet while authorities sought to disarm ordinary citizens in New Orleans, they had no plans to disarm private security guards hired to protect businesses, the wealthy and connected. Which means that, as is so often the case throughout history, freedom and safety are reserved for the well-to-do- while ordinary citizens most in need of protection are left with little more than their prayers and pleas for mercy.

Bova, the Gulfport resident quoted earlier, brought the situation into the starkest focus. When I told him of New Orleans' policy of disarming honest citizens, he was speechless at first, for he hadn't heard the news. then he grew livid.

"These are people who have lost everything," he said. "their kids, their homes, their life savings, all their possessions. All that's left is that they're still alive. You mean to tell me, after losing all that, politicians want to take away their guns--the one thing that can keep them alive? "Who do they think they are?" he shouted. "these people ought to be indicted and put in jail!" "For generations, anti-gun politicians have claimed that honest citizens don't need firearms because the police or the government will always be there to protect you," said NRA's LaPierre. "that's nonsense, it's naive, it has never played out that way in history, and New Orleans proves it once and for all.

"Authorities are trying to do what the looters and criminals could not: disarm the law-abiding citizens of New Orleans trying to protect their homes and families," he said.

"The NRA will not stand idly by while guns are confiscated from law-abiding people who're trying to defend themselves." NRA-ILA chief Cox agreed.

"We're going to do what it takes to ensure this never happens again," Cox said. "First, we're going to go into every state that has laws allowing authorities to confiscate firearms from lawful people during a state of emergency, and we're going to change those laws. Second, we're going to get legislation on Capitol Hill to amend the federal disaster laws, so that governments never have the authority to confiscate firearms from peaceable citizens--whether under a state of emergency or not.

And third, we're going to go to court to defend the Second Amendment rights of people whose firearms have been confiscated, and we're going to get those firearms back," Cox said. "The NRA will not allow this travesty to stand."


With Gulf Coast telecommunications systems non-functional in the wake of Katrina, parts of this story were drawn from published reports from a variety of sources, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Associated Press, wwltv.com, St. Louis Post- Dispatch, Boston Globe, kthv.com, London Daily Telegraph, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Christian Science Monitor, Austin American- Statesman, FoxNews.com and CNN.com.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.