Growing up in a small Arkansas town, I was around guns frequently. I spent many an hour watching my cousins who were national skeet shooting champions. One of them, a female, is still ranked on the national circuit. I knew that guns were for hunting and recreation but also for protection.
By 1979, I was the proud owner of a Creole cottage in Treme and shortly thereafter a spiffy Triumph TR6 that I usually drove with the top down. A friend who worried about my safety gave me a pearl-handled one-shot derringer to carry in my purse. One fine summer day, I shut the car door with my purse and inadvertently shot myself right below the knee. After seeing the purse’s large hole, the two police officers who drove me to Charity Hospital laughed all the way there. They also confiscated my gun because it was not legally registered to me.
I learned an important lesson about gun ownership and gun safety that day. But I also learned that, as a single woman often living alone, some sort of protection would be necessary in the future. Jumping forward 40 years, New Orleans crime levels, including domestic violence, should make many New Orleanians eager to learn how to defend themselves.
Gun ownership in America has been growing, especially among women. A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center pointed out that more than 40% of Americans personally own a gun, live with someone who does or owned a gun in the past. Almost half of respondents who indicated they did not currently own a gun could see themselves owning a gun in the future. Readers should note that these statistics were tabulated long before Covid-19 and rise in crime brought great change to our everyday lives. In 2020, Louisiana ranked second in gun deaths (26.3 per 100,000) only surpassed by Mississippi. Suicides accounted for more than half of U.S. gun deaths in 2020.
Pew describes the typical gun owner in 2017 as White, male, Republican or leaning Republican and living in a rural area. About 22% of women surveyed said they owned a gun, and 45% of those women who did not currently own a gun could see themselves acquiring a weapon. Roughly three-quarters of gun owners say the firearm gives them a sense of freedom, Pew found. The vast majority of gun owners believe that the world, broadly speaking, has become more dangerous. Protection tops the list as the major reason for gun ownership, a sentiment shared by 71% of female gun owners.
In addition to self-protection, another reason women might want to own a gun includes being able to defend their families and children — especially if they are a single parent. Some women may find a feeling of comfort and security. Still others might feel satisfaction over acquiring a new skill.
In a civilized world, law-abiding citizens would not need to be armed. Yet the criminals, the perpetrators, have guns or can easily acquire them. Including military weapons, there are millions of guns in the U.S. and many thousands in New Orleans. According to the New Orleans Police Department, 705 individuals have been arrested on illegal gun charges from January through July, up 7% from last year. In the last week of July alone, 68 guns were taken off the street.
New Orleans is the homicide capital of America. Though the NOPD just concluded its lowest monthly homicide total in 2022, homicides year-to-date are still up 38%. Auto burglaries continue to rise. Carjackings are also up in 2022. Armed robberies are showing the sharpest increase of any major violent crime this summer.
Perhaps the most compelling reason women might want to arm themselves can be found in the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s Weekly Orleans Prosecution Update. There were 87 new felony arrests since last week. A 52% majority of felony arrests are for violent felony charges including 16% domestic violent. Only 31% of violent-domestic felonies were accepted for prosecution.
According to the MCC, the discrepancy between domestic and non-domestic violence cases outcomes remains substantial. “A staggering 89 percent majority of domestic violence felony cases are resolved through either misdemeanor plea/conviction (50 percent), dismissal (34 percent) or not guilty verdicts (5 percent).” In other words, many victims of domestic violence may never get the justice they deserve. They especially need to protect themselves against their violent offenders who may choose to again inflict harm. If a potential perpetrator sees you are carrying a gun, that individual could decide to walk away.
If you are uncomfortable firing a gun, however, do not carry one. Gun safety training is also a must for all potential gun owners. It is available from churches, nonprofit organizations such as the Home Defense Foundation, and private companies such as Concealed Carry NOLA, Angel Arms NOLA and Professional Security Training. A concealed carry permit is a necessary accessory for every gun owner.
We are all suffering through an era of unprecedented crime, during which many New Orleans residents are beginning to wonder if living in this culturally rich city is worth the ever-increasing chance of being a victim. It’s better to be prepared with the tools and skills needed for self-defense than to find yourself at the wrong end of the barrel.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.