An edited version of the news
WASHINGTON -- People in Louisiana rushed to purchase guns in the chaotic days of looting and lawlessness following Hurricane Katrina, according to law enforcement officials still trying to track down thousands of other weapons that were lost or stolen. seized
The increase was sharpest in the days immediately following the hurricane, according to FBI's criminal history background checks on prospective gun buyers.
The 13,256 checks requested in the first 12 days of September were nearly as many as for the entire month a year ago. FBI officials, careful to avoid being drawn into the politically hot topic of gun ownership, would not speculate on the reason for the increase.
People seeking to arm themselves following a disaster is nothing new. More guns were bought nationwide, and more permits to carry concealed weapons were sought, after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"In this case, people realized that the police simply were overwhelmed. They had too much to do trying to rescue people and couldn't protect citizens. What should people do when they have to fend for themselves?" said John Lott, an American Enterprise Institute gun policy expert.
Several gun merchants interviewed by The Associated Press said televised reports of looting in New Orleans fed the spike in gun purchases, as residents of Baton Rouge and other communities flocked to gun stores telling of the need to protect themselves.
"There was a fear of the unknown," said Frank Pirie, owner of Bowie Outfitters in Baton Rouge. "You have to understand that the restaurant people, the store owners were out of business. Well, the drug dealers and thieves were out of business too and they had to relocate somewhere."
The population of Baton Rouge has nearly doubled since Katrina, adding to fears of its permanent residents, Pirie said.
The FBI tracks background checks, not actual gun sales. Fewer than 2 percent of people who want to buy guns are turned down because they have a criminal history.
The increase occurred despite the decision two weeks ago by one large retailer, Wal-Mart, suspend sales of guns and ammunition at 40 stores in Louisiana and Mississippi that were hit by the hurricane.
"We want to strike a responsible balance between taking care of customers in our communities and a fluid situation in those areas," said company spokeswoman Sharon Weber.
FBI records do not show a similar increase in Mississippi purchases.
The data is not broken down by the purchaser's hometown, so it's unclear what percentage of the gun owners are New Orleans residents who will be returning to the city. For that reason, a spokesperson for New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin declined to comment.
Robert Sampson, a Harvard University sociologist, disputed the notion that the rise in gun purchases is a natural outgrowth of the hurricane.
"There is a lack of trust of neighbors, of social service agencies, of government, that predates the hurricane," he said. "The fact that these areas have had such high homicide rates feeds a certain cynicism about crime." wonder why
Mark Chait, who heads the New Orleans office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said his agents are less (Not, "isn't") concerned by the increase in legal gun purchases than by guns that either were looted or lost in the floodwaters. ATF agents are working with gun store owners to recover weapons.(No mention of the law abiding citizens weapons that were confiscated)
"We"( BATFE) want to secure them so they don't get into the hands of the criminal element," Chait said.
On a recent day, agents discovered 20 handguns in a cemetery Dumpster, covered by a plastic bag, Chait said. "It looks like the individual may have looted them from a gun dealer and may have stashed them there, hoping to come back," Chait said.
Like other government agencies, ATF was part of the search and rescue/confiscation operation in New Orleans. In recent days, however, agents have returned to their primary enforcement duties, Chait said.......and now for something completely differant
Those include investigating several suspicious fires to determine whether they were intentionally set by people who might lack flood insurance but have coverage for other calamities, he said.
"There are individuals who historically have used arson as a way to gain insurance money. In most cases, it's businesses in the city that we're looking at," Chait said.
Overall, the virtual emptying of New Orleans presents an opportunity for police, he said.
"As re-entry happens, we can track the criminal element as it comes back into the city," he said. Hmm, who exactly is the criminal element. Everyone who bought guns in LA?