Op-Ed: Why were guns taken from law-abiding citizens in New Orleans?

By John R. Lott Jr. at JohnrLott.com

Also published Tuesday, March 21, 2006, in National Review Online.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ residents got an
idea of what life is like without the rule of law. They had no
telephones, no way to call 911. Even if they had, the police who
reported for duty were busy with rescue missions, not fighting crime.
Citizens had to protect themselves. This was made rather difficult by
the city’s confiscation of guns, even from law-abiding citizens.

After five months of denial in federal district court, the city last
week made an embarrassing admission: in the aftermath of the
hurricane, the severely overworked police apparently had the time to
confiscate thousands of guns from law-abiding citizens.

Numerous media stories have shown how useful guns were to the
ordinary citizens of New Orleans who weren’t forcibly disarmed. Fox
News reported several defensive gun uses. One city resident, John
Carolan, was taking care of many family members, including his three-
year-old granddaughter, when three men came to his house asking about
his generator, threatening him with a machete. Carolan showed them
his gun and they left. Another resident, Finis Shelnutt, recounts a
similar story that the gangs left him alone after seeing “I have a
very large gun.”

Signs painted on boarded up windows in various parts of town warned
criminals in advance not to try: the owner had shotguns inside.

Last September 8, a little more than a week after the hurricane, New
Orleans’ police superintendent, Eddie Compass announced: “No one will
be able to be armed. Guns will be taken. Only law enforcement will be
allowed to have guns.” Even legally registered firearms were seized,
though exceptions were made for select businesses and for some
wealthy individuals to hire guards.

Undoubtedly, selected businesses and well-connected wealthy
individuals had good reason to want protection, but so did others
without the same political pull. One mother saw the need for a gun
after she and her two children (ages 9 and 12) saw someone killed in
New Orleans after the hurricane. The mother said: “I was a card-
carrying, anti-gun liberal — not anymore.”

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

John C. Guidos was successfully guarding his tavern on St. Claude Ave
on September 7, when police took his shotgun and pistol; indeed, it
was the only time that he saw any cops. Soon afterwards robbers
looted the tavern. Wishing for a gun during disasters isn’t anything
new. Just a little over a decade ago, police stood by, largely
helpless, during the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict.
Yet, not all the victims were defenseless. Korean merchants stood out
as one group that banded together and used their guns to protect
their stores from looting.

A similar lesson hasn’t been lost on New Orleans’ citizens. As one
resident, Art DePodesta, told the New York Daily News shortly after
the storm hit, “The cops are busy as it is. If more citizens took
security and matters into their own hands, we won’t be in this

Not only do law-abiding citizens with guns deter many criminals from
committing a crime to begin with: Possessing a gun is the safest way
to confront a criminal if you are forced to.

Deterrence works. The United States has one of the world's lowest
“hot” burglary rates (burglaries committed while people are in the
building) at 13 percent, compared to the “gun-free” British rate of
59 percent. Surveys of convicted burglars indicate American burglars
spend at least twice as long as their British counterparts casing a
house before breaking in. That explains why American burglars rarely
break into homes when the residents are there. The reason most
American burglars give for taking so much time is that they’re afraid
of getting shot.

Even without a catastrophe like Katrina, it would have been a poor
strategy for would-be victims in New Orleans merely to call 911 and
wait for help. The average response time of police in New Orleans
before the hurricane was eleven minutes. The Justice Department’s
National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that having
a gun is the safest course of action when a criminal confronts you,
far safer than behaving passively.

It would be nice if the police were always there to protect us, but
we don’t live in a utopia and the police understand that they almost
always arrive on the scene after the crime has been committed. What
does New Orleans’ Mayor Nagin recommend that people such as John
Carolan and his granddaughter do the next time that have to fend for
themselves? The city must know that there isn’t much of a defense for
taking citizens’ guns; after all, it took them five months to admit
to it.

— Mr. Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago
Presss, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns" (Regnery 2003).

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.