Gun, ammo sales are brisk ahead of storm
By Chris Kirkham Times Picayune
Saturday, August 30, 2008
On what would normally be a slow summer weekday, the three employees at Gretna Gun Works Inc. frantically tended to a crush of customers admiring the racks of shotguns and rifles lined up behind the glass counter.
Among the patrons: a jewelry store owner from eastern New Orleans with plans to stand guard through Gustav; two uniformed Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office deputies inquiring about additional firearms; and an avid hunter who was in to pick up a 12-gauge he dropped off for cleaning. "It's hurricane season, you definitely want it back now, right?" employee John DeRosier said with a grin as he handed the Beretta shotgun back to the owner.
In yet another sign of hardened sensibilities in post-Katrina New Orleans, managers of gun shops and sporting goods stores across the area report a spike in gun and ammunition sales this week. As Gustav inches closer to the Gulf of Mexico, the stark images of looting and chaos in Katrina's wake remain fresh on residents' minds. Fears of property damage after a frustrating, three-year rebuilding process have some considering staying behind and taking security into their own hands.
Firefighters and other emergency personnel required to stay behind are among the more frequent customers, store managers said. "I just don't think people want to be caught with their pants down," said Robby Lack of Destrehan, who was walking out of an Academy sporting goods store this week with ammunition for the shotgun and two pistols he owns, along with gasoline containers and other hurricane supplies.
Lack plans to stay behind unless Gustav strengthens to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, although he's quick to admit that his quiet suburban subdivision likely won't see much crime. "I'm not one of those crazy kind of people that think we're going to be at war with ourselves, but you just never know," Lack said. "I have all the faith in the world in our law enforcement, but they can't be at every place at every time."
Charlie Marshall, a towboat captain who plans to watch over his home in Gretna, had a bleaker view of local law enforcement abilities. "If the cops are looting, who's going to protect my ass?" he asked.
After Katrina, some police officers were spotted taking basic supplies from stores, and, in isolated cases, items that didn't appear necessary for survival. Though frustrated after having his purchase of a .22-caliber rifle delayed by a routine background check, Marshall still had several boxes of bullets and buckshot for his shotgun and 9 mm pistol. "Any man that doesn't stand up to protect their own assets doesn't deserve to be here," he said.
The right to bear arms became a flash point of controversy after Katrina, when police officers seized guns from civilians. The outcry from Second Amendment activists led more than a dozen states -- including Louisiana -- to pass laws restricting local officials from confiscating firearms during disasters.
Louisiana requires a concealed-handgun license, but no permits for other guns purchased in the state. Before selling a gun, dealers in the state are required to run the purchaser's name through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Within seconds, the system tells dealers whether the person can purchase a gun, or if more information is needed. The FBI collects those inquiries on a statewide basis, so no data for the New Orleans area was available. This month, there have been 16,968 inquiries throughout the state, compared with 17,062 for August 2007.
Corporate spokeswomen at both Academy Sports and Outdoors and Wal-Mart declined to comment on the rate of firearms or ammunition purchases this week. But traffic through the ammunition aisles at the West Bank Academy was brisk, and lines at the gun counter remained steady this week. Kevin Griffin, a manager at the Jefferson Gun Outlet in Metairie, said crowds in the store this week resembled the first day of hunting season. Even though the storm's path is still up in the air, residents are buying ammunition just like necessities such as batteries and water, he said. "It's just like any other hurricane supply," Griffin said. "People are getting ready."
Inside the dimly lit, wood-paneled Gretna Gun Works, a 60-year-old mainstay for new and antique firearms near the Gretna riverfront, workers have seen nearly a twofold increase in business this week. A black-and-white framed photo of former Sheriff Harry Lee, surrounded by two stuffed pheasants, looked down on the store workers as they enjoyed a rare pause in business. DeRosier stood in front of a bumper sticker that read, "Gun control means using both hands," as he matter-of-factly gave his analysis of looting after Katrina. "They didn't break in where the people had shotguns," he said.
Labels: Hurricanes, New Orleans