When the New Orleans Police and Louisiana National Guard disarmed New Orleans citizens at the point of a gun (or a hundred), the news of the event reverberated throughout America’s firearm fraternity like the original “shot heard ’round the world.” The law enforcement action stoked the fires of those who’d long been warning of the threat of official gun confiscation—from mainstream NRA members to extremist militias. The scenes also added fuel to the pyre for restrictive gun control laws. In retrospect, disarming post-Katrina citizens was an enormous strategic blunder by bone-headed bureaucrats drunk with power and bereft of respect for the Constitution. On the other hand, ProPubica reports that New Orleans was home to a band of shotgun-wielding racist vigilantes with a shoot-to-kill mentality.

The floodwaters that spilled over much of New Orleans didn’t touch Algiers Point.

Still, the catastrophe prompted the neighborhood’s residents – most of whom are white — to take action. Within days, a band of 15 to 30 locals had taken up weapons, barricaded the streets with downed trees and debris, and begun regular patrols of the area. Residents say they were trying to keep their homes from being overrun by thieves and outlaws.

“There’s no black and white issue here,” said Clyde Price III, a white man who lived next door to Bourgeois for many years.

But others, including Malik Rahim, the co-founder of the activist group Common Ground Relief, who was in Algiers Point in the days after the storm, believe the neighborhood militia carried out a series of hate crimes, threatening and shooting black people who walked into the area.

That’s right: “and shooting.” I know the following excerpt stretches the boundaries of fair use. But every gun owner who felt the long arm of the law on his or her shoulder after the New Orleans gun confiscation “scandal” should read this passage, regardless of their take on their right to personal protection.

As Terri Benjamin and her aunt, Eudith Rodney, walked along Pelican Avenue that day, the reverberating boom of gunfire echoed through the thick, humid air.

Fearful, the women began running toward the safety of Benjamin’s home. As they neared Vallette Street, they encountered a group of armed white men, Benjamin said in an interview.

Among the men, Benjamin recalled, was Roland Bourgeois Jr., who lived just two doors down on Vallette Street. Bourgeois was gripping a shotgun and celebrating.

“My neighbor was jumping up and down, hootin’ and hollerin’ like he was big-game hunting and he got the big one,” she said. “All of his friends were rallying him on, and they were cheering.”

A beefy character with a shaved head, Bourgeois screamed “I got one!” and boasted that he’d shot a “looter,” said Benjamin, who shared her story with a federal grand jury on March 25.

Before long, she said, another armed man — someone Benjamin didn’t recognize — showed up with news: The person Bourgeois had shot was wounded but alive a few blocks away.

According to Benjamin, Bourgeois said, “I’m gonna kill that nigger,” and ran, barefoot and shirtless, down the street before turning and jogging out of view.

Benjamin heard another gunshot.

Bourgeois ran back to join the group of gun-equipped men standing in the street, she said. “He came back with a baseball cap that had blood on it. And I knew there was blood on the cap because it ran onto his arm. And he brandished the cap for all of his friends,” Benjamin said. “Everybody cheered. They were happy for him.”

Rights. Responsibilities. Connect the dots. Should the New Orleans Police and National Guard have disarmed the ironically named Mr. Bourgeois? And if so, how could they tell which armed homeowners were on the right side of the moral divide, and which were looking to swan dive into the dark side? So why not disarm them all and stop the slaughter?

Now you could argue that the victim, Donnell Herrington, should have been armed himself. And then recoil at the idea of a race war on the streets of New Orleans. Any way you look at it, when society breaks down, everyone suffers. Some more than others.

8 Responses to The Other Side of the New Orleans Gun Confiscation Issue

  1. There were other things the police and guard could have done. They could have deputized residents with legal guns and made them a supervised part of the solution. Instead they created a bigger problem.

  2. Agreed. And I'm not sure it's an either / or situation. A little discretion at the sharp end would have gone a LONG way.

  3. If the story is true, then this guy is no different than any other criminal. So if you can justify taking away guns during an emergency, why not just take away guns period? Criminals will commit crime. It's what they do.

    And to play Devil's Advocate – there's no proof any of these stories are real. This is all hearsay from 4 years ago. That's a long time.

    Even if this turns out to be a racially motivated crime, that's just it – it's crime. You can't preemptively punish people for things they haven't done. You can't take guns away from people who haven't done anything wrong. You can't throw people in jail who haven't been convicted. You can't stop a person from speaking because he might say something offensive.

    Part of your personal responsibility is keeping yourself safe. No one is arguing that New Orleans after Katrina wasn't a dangerous place. Call me crazy, but I don't go walking around at night in dangerous places or past signs that say "Stay out or we'll shoot you."

      • I would have to look at a map to comment completely accurately, because I don't know the relationship of the neighborhood in question to any nearby pick-up points or shores.

        Algiers Point is, according to wikipedia, around 50 city blocks wide. The neighborhood in question had impromptu barricades set up.

        People should be free to go where they please (within legal limits) but if I saw a sign promising to shoot me, I'd probably take the long way around if I had to.

  4. What you also see is that because the authorities think that we’re monsters, they themselves panic and become the monsters in disaster. Some of the sociologists I worked with—Lee Clarke and Caron Chess—call this “elite panic,” and that’s the panic that matters in disasters, the sense that things are out of control; we have to get them back in control, whether that means shooting civilians suspected of stealing things, whether that means focusing on control and weapons as a response, rather than on help and support or just letting people do what they already are doing magnificently. And so, it really upends not only the sense of what happens in disaster, in these extreme moments, but I think it upends our sense of human nature, who most of us are and who we want to be. There’s enormous possibility in disaster to see how much people want to be members of a stronger society, to be better connected, to have meaningful work, how much everyday life prevents that.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2009/8/31/a_paradise_

  5. So one guy committing a hate crime justifies pi$$ing all over the 2nd amendment? I don’t think so.. But, nice try.. Sometimes, cars are used to run people over.. should we confiscate all vehicles, too?

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