The Great New Orleans Gun Grab: Descent into Anarchy by Gordon Hutchinson and Todd Masson focuses on the lawlessness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The lawlessness described includes that of criminals, looters, and most notably, the police.
New Orleans was the site of systematic and pervasive illegal, unconstitutional seizures of legally owned firearms. Police beat citizens possessing firearms and arrested the gun owners as means of retaliation. Some guns were discarded into canals, others were destroyed, and many were stolen by officers for personal gain.
The horror stories of police corruption, police looting, police murder, and civil rights violations galore are well-know. The New Orleans Police in the aftermath was an ineffectual force acting as nothing more than armed bullies. Defiance of the police did bring swift and severe retaliation in many cases. Armed resistance against tyrannical police abuse would have likely brought an overwhelming assault from mixed local, state, federal, out-of-state law enforcement and military forces. An out-of-control government had its day, failing to protect its citizens from each other, but yet denying them an ability to defend themselves.
The following excerpts are from the book.
“Police Superintendent Eddie Compass stated: ‘No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons.’”
“The police even stopped private citizens with their vehicles packed, trying to leave the city in the weeks after the storm. Though they were obviously trying to evacuate, the police would pull their vehicles over, ask the passengers if any guns were in the vehicle, and make them unload their belongings on the street until the firearms were found.
“The cops would then confiscate the guns, frequently refusing to identify themselves or allow the citizens to copy down the serial numbers. In depositions given to NRA and SAF attorneys, some citizens described their firearms being broken and damaged before their eyes by smashing the guns into the pavement.”
“A common explanation for the behavior of the cops in New Orleans was that the city as ‘under martial law.’ Thus many people, even the victims of the thuggish and criminal behavior of the police at the time, believed the activities of the police and military units were justified because the city was under such an order[...] Nothing could be further from the truth... In point of fact, there was no martial law order in the aftermath of Katrina[...]
“[...] persons purported to be strong defenders of the police, and used half-truths and innuendo to bolster their arguments in the same way they accused the outraged gun owners of ding. They offered the argument that New Orleans had one of the highest murder rates per capita in the nation. The police and National Guard units did not have any way to determine who might or might not shoot them if they came upon an armed citizen, so they had the right to disarm them all.”
Culture is Important
The authors point out that gun confiscation was a habit of the New Orleans Police. Such seizures described below are clear violations of the 2nd and 4th Amendment.
“For years, it has been common practice for traffic and other divisions of NOPD to demand see receipts proving ownership of any guns in the vehicles that were stopped. If receipts could not be produced, the guns would be taken an the owner told he or she could pick it up at the precinct if they could find a receipt proving ownership.
“This is patently illegal and a violation of Louisiana law, which allows the carrying of firearms in a personal vehicle. In Louisiana, the vehicle is considered an extension of the home, and thus a firearm can be carried loaded or unloaded, concealed or in the open, inside the vehicle.
“Many people are uncertain of their rights pertaining to firearms ownership. When the poor and minorities have an inherent distrust of the police to begin with, they would allow their guns to be taken with no protest, thus the practice became common, and was almost considered a right by the police in New Orleans. When such a mindset is entrenched, it is a small step across a narrow divide to wholesale confiscation such as occurred in the aftermath of Katrina. Thus was the practice encouraged and accelerated by the hierarchy of command in the New Orleans Police Department.”
A police officer must have probable cause that a weapon is stolen before attempting to document ownership or determine if the weapon is stolen. Demanding to see receipts, or likewise running a serial number, would constitute and illegal search. Taking it back to the station is an illegal seizure, plain and simple.
No doubt, the culture of NOPD contributed to their actions during the hurricane.
To Some, Confiscation is Unthinkable
“It’s tough being a firearms enthusiast in today’s culture. There are so many assumptions made about anyone who enjoys shooting and guns, many people actually play down their enthusiasm to avoid being typecast as someone with a lesser intellect. [...] The naysayers and pseudo-intellectuals smile knowingly at gun owners, sneering behind their backs, branding them alarmists, rabble rousers, and ‘gun nuts’[...]To these types, firearms enthusiasts are cartoons; they’re knuckle-dragging, chest-beating, slope-headed Neanderthals.
“To these people, the danger of gun confiscation, which removes the people’s right to protect themselves against their own government, is a joke that can never happen.”
No Respect For the Law
After being asked what would happen after another devastating hurricane, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said: “‘During circumstances like that, we cannot allow people to walk the streets carrying guns. As law-enforcement officers, we will confiscate the weapon if the person is walking down the street, and they may be arrested.’ In direct contravention of newly minted state law, and reaffirming the actions of the police were illegal in Katrina’s aftermath, the police chief promised they would do it again.”
1. Humans in catastrophic disasters will abandon their normal, socially enforced behaviors while taking advantage of the structure of former social patters and intuitions.
With the situation in New Orleans being about actual, day-to-day survival, social mores against theft, robbery, and personal property went out the window. It was an ‘every man for himself’ attitude for many. Many looters, kept in check by the watchful eyes of society and in fear of the police, acted upon their urges, unrestrained by the former deterrent factors.
This behavior extended to the police, who gave up any pretense of judicial law-and-order policing. From the stories of police murder, desertion, and police engaging in looting, it was clear the department existed in name only. For unknown reasons, police engaged in bizarre thuggery, coupling their ordinary duties with incompatible illegal behavior.
Though the world no longer resembled what it did before the storm and 21st Century American life, law, and justice temporarily vacated New Orleans, the power of the badge still held sway. There could be no reprisals because the police apparatus, though broken, disloyal, and dysfunctional, still existed. If an armed citizen resisted the patently tyrannical abuses of the police, there were plenty more who would kill or arrest that citizen and to continue their usurpation of authority.
2. Existing police culture will dictate police response in a crisis.
As the authors point out, New Orleans Police already engaged in discriminatory and unconstitutional searches and seizures. At a whim, they could violate two constitutional amendments in one act. When disaster struck, police already felt entitled to take guns away from the citizens because they had done so before without resistance.
Police departments across the nation have been identified as having pervasive patterns of discrimination and other violations of civil rights. New York City is known for its abuse of ‘stop and frisk’, while New Jersey State Troopers were at the center of the ‘driving while black’ controversy. LAPD was placed under a federal consent decree over concerns about use of force against minorities.
Citizens must act before the crisis to ensure that their police will treat citizen’s civil rights with respect both before and after the crisis.
Personally, I believe that most line police officers aren’t really against the right to keep and bear arms, but either misinformed by their superiors or have so much experience with criminals carrying guns, that their brain automatically lumps armed citizens into the ‘bad guy’ category.
3. Paramilitary organizations will follow orders and citizens will generally submit to authorities.
It was a rejected defense in Nuremberg, nonetheless, humans will defer to authority, especially if they are conditioned to it. Since the atrocities of WWII and war crimes in Vietnam, both the military and police have been told to disobey any illegal orders. Yet in the case of the police, it still goes on.
Ever wonder why a cop won’t let you drive up a street that’s been closed due to an emergency or crime? “It’s for your safety.” More often than not, he’s been told that no one is to go up the street and he is not in a position to question his orders. Half the time, he might not even know why he’s doing what he’s been told to do. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s not letting you drive through a raging forest fire or past the crazy guy on his roof with a sniper rifle. Other times, it’s for a vague, poorly thought out reason.
4. ‘Public safety’ will always be the rallying call.
The police likely they argued they were following orders under a mistake of fact (about martial law) in the good of public safety. “If it’s good for the public, then it must be permissible,” the specious logic goes.
The putative goal of gun confiscation was to protect the public from gun violence. A police apologist could argue that the intent was to take guns away from criminals. Yet seizures targeted people who refused to evacuate, critics of Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Blanco, and law-abiding citizens. Anecdotes show this to be the case time and time again.
While the police were taking guns from the ‘good guys’, they were not protecting the public. Crime was rampant. Neighborhoods organized militias and home and business owners kept armed watch. The National Guard even withdrew from their checkpoints after nightfall. The police took away the public’s self-defense ability while unable or unwilling to provide police protection.
5. Mission creep is a big deal.
Most cops actually care about public safety. They don’t throw in the towel after their first shift directing traffic in a cold rainstorm. Cops want to put the bad guys in jail.
The problem is that like any job, the actual goals are subordinated by the daily work. Protecting the public is done by writing up traffic violations and arresting people. It’s easy to see things as tickets that need written and looking for a felony arrest to make yourself look good to the sergeant.
Think of your job, especially something that deals with people in bad situations. You try to help, but soon everyone is just a name or number and just another problem. You want to do whatever needs to be done to make them leave you alone. It’s the day to day clouds that obscure the horizon of our true purpose at work.
Giving the NOPD cops the benefit of the doubt, they were trying to make things safer. More bad logic: Gun violence problem? Get rid of the guns. Too hard to take guns from the bad guys? Take them from the good guys; good guns make easy victims.
I highly doubt a majority of American law enforcement would cooperate with a nationwide gun confiscation. First, most cops respect the constitution and the right to self-defense, even though their-day-to day policing can suffer from tunnel vision. Second, the fear of an armed rebellion and guerrilla war is a major deterrent.
Isolated incidents will occur, but in the majority of major catastrophes in America, this is an outlying event. Nothing remotely like this happened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Andrew, 9/11, Northridge Earthquake, or even to the Koreans famous for defending their businesses during the LA riots.
What happened in New Orleans was a perfect storm, pardon the pun. A corrupt, unethical police department was presiding over absolute chaos and the powers that be felt they had to contain the violence by any means. The rotten police culture, the pervasive pattern of gun confiscations pre-Katrina, the shock of the event, the collapse of organized society, day-to-day survival, and misconceptions about martial law all combined to create the atmosphere of tyranny.
In New York and Connecticut, nothing has happened, despite huge numbers of non-compliant gun owners. Politically, it is dangerous and many of the line officers wouldn’t go along with the scheme.
Could it happen again or nationwide? Yes, but the above conditions would probably need to be met. Nationally, a cadre committed to disarmament and willing to risk casualties could make effective strides in confiscation.
The most dangerous thing of all is a culture shift that would make gun owners out to be the bad guys and any police action against them seem justified.