“All our operators are busy right now. Please remain on the line and an operator will be with you shortly. Your call is important to us.”
Can you imagine any words more horrifying after dialing 9-1-1? Your life’s in danger, but there’s no one available to help you.
For several days, life was absolutely terrifying for many New Orleans residents who got stranded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There were no operators … there were no phone calls being handled.
Heck, there was no 9-1-1. Even if the phone lines had been working, there were no police officers waiting to be dispatched.
Hundreds of New Orleans police officers had fled the city. Some took their badges and threw them out the windows of their cars as they sped away. Others participated in the looting of the city.
To be sure, there are many officers who have acted honorably. Many have given their best effort to apprehend dangerous thugs, even while grieving the loss of their own family members.
But thousands of residents were trapped inside a city, forced to fend for their own safety and well-being.
“It was pandemonium for a couple of nights,” said Charlie Hackett, a New Orleans resident. “We just felt that when they got done with the stores, they’d come to the homes.”
Hackett was right … which is why he and his neighbor, John Carolan, stood guard over their homes to ward off looters who, rummaging through the neighborhoods, were smashing windows and ransacking stores.
Armed looters did eventually come to Carolan’s house and demanded his generator. But Carolan showed them his gun and they left.
No wonder, then, that gun stores – which weren’t under water – were selling firearms at a record pace to people looking to defend themselves. “I’ve got people like you wouldn’t believe, lots of people, coming in and buying handguns,” said Briley Reed, the assistant manager of the E-Z Pawn store in Baton Rouge.
“I’ve even had soldiers coming in here buying guns,” Reed said.
Indeed, firearms were the hottest commodity in the days following the massive destruction. In Gulfport, Miss., Ron Roland, 51, used his firearm to stop looters from rummaging through his storm-damaged property.
Roland and his son even performed a citizen’s arrest on one plunderer and then warned future thieves by posting the following message in his yard: “NO TRESPASSERS! ARMED HOMEOWNERS.”
Signs like this were common throughout the Gulf Coast region in the days following Katrina. And it should serve as a reminder to us that the police can’t always be there to protect us.
We should have learned this lesson more than a decade ago when the entire country saw horrifying images during the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
For several days, that city was in complete turmoil as stores were looted and burned. Motorists were dragged from their cars and beaten.
Further aggravating the situation, police were very slow in responding to the crisis. Many Guardsmen, after being mobilized to the affected areas, sat by and watched the violence because their rifles were low on ammunition.
But not everybody in Los Angeles suffered. In some of the hot spots, Korean merchants were able to successfully protect their stores with semi-automatic firearms.
In areas where armed citizens banded together for self-protection, their businesses were spared, while others (which were left unprotected) burned to the ground.
Press reports described how life-long gun-control supporters were even running to gun stores to buy an item they never thought they would need – a gun. Tragically, they were surprised (and outraged!) to learn there was a 15-day waiting period for firearms.
Fast forward more than a decade: It seems we still haven’t learned the lessons from previous tragedies. Rather than arming the poor, defenseless survivors who are stranded in New Orleans, Police Superintendent Edwin Compass III has actually ordered the very opposite – the confiscation of legally-owned firearms!
These guns were the only thing that prevented good people from becoming victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
But now, will the police superintendent provide 24-hour, round-the-clock protection for each of these disarmed families? Will he make himself personally liable for anyone who is injured or killed as a result of being prevented from defending himself or his family?
When your life is in danger, you don’t want to rely on a police force that is stretched way too thin. And the last thing you want to hear when you call 9-1-1 is: “All our operators are busy right now …”
That might just be the last thing you ever hear.
Erich Pratt is the director of communications for Gun Owners of America, a national gun lobby with over 300,000 members.