WASHINGTON – Gun rights groups are pointing to Hurricane Katrina as the best example since the 1992 Los Angeles riots of the need for civilians to carry firearms. They say that lawlessness and looting could be prevented by responsibly armed citizens.
Meanwhile,the gun rights advocates say they are deeply troubled by the decision,made by New Orleans Police Superintendent Edwin Compass,to confiscate civilian firearms during the citywide evacuation earlier this month.
Kelly Hobbs,a National Rifle Association spokeswoman,said the group had reports from New Orleans that police had gone to homes of people who had recently purchased guns to confiscate them.
“It's really irresponsible for the authorities to try to confiscate guns from law-abiding individuals,” said Andrew A. Arulanandam,also an NRA spokesman. He said officials should instead be working to locate and disarm criminals.
Peter S. Hamm,a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence,which supports laws regulating and limiting gun ownership,criticized the NRA and other gun-rights' groups as trying to use a natural catastrophe for political gain.
He said that Katrina – and its effect of intensifying focus on preparing for manmade and natural disasters – will not cause Americans to warm up to guns. “That has already happened,” he said. “9/11 made people think ‘I have to defend myself.' ”
Hamm said the public viewed gun ownership as largely positive in the wake of the Sept. 11,2001,attacks but that perceptions of gun ownership following Katrina were mixed. Stories of guns being used in self defense will balance against tales of “the guys who had guns and were terrorizing people in the convention center” and reports of thieves pilfering guns from pawn shops,Hamm said.
“In sum,it will be a wash,” Hamm said.
Surveys show that public support for gun control has eroded over the last 15 years. In 1990,a Gallup poll found that 78 percent of Americans wanted the laws to be more strict. By October 2004,that number was down to 54 percent.
Some retailers,responding to the threat of looting and the needs of local law enforcement officials,have temporarily discontinued selling guns.
Wal-Mart stopped selling firearms at 40 stores in the affected areas and has changed the way it sells guns at other stores by locking them in vaults,said spokeswoman Karen A. Burk.
Burk would not confirm press reports that looters stole Wal-Mart guns immediately after Katrina struck. “We're trying to work with local authorities to do the right things,” she said,adding that there is no timeline for resuming gun sales at the 40 stores.
Burk said that firearm security isn't an issue for Wal-Mart. “Firearms are kept behind glass in general,” she said. “We keep them safe.”
The Gun Owners of America was disappointed with Wal-Mart's decision. “In a time of crisis when people say they most need self protection,Wal-Mart says,‘We're not going to do it,' ” said GOA spokesman Erich M. Pratt.
Despite the stolen firearms,Pratt said that gun retailers should not be called on to beef up security. “It's not going to keep firearms out of the bad guys' hands – they're still going to get them,” he said.
The GOA,which has video on its Web site of an ABC news story that says soldiers confiscated guns from homeowners,considers Katrina a “critical juncture” in the public debate about gun control. “If nothing happens from these confiscations,that would set a horrible precedent – suspending constitutional rights under a calamity,” Pratt said.
New Orleans and Louisiana officials could not be reached for comment.