For more than a month now, Attorney General Jeff Landry, a former sheriff’s deputy and the leading candidate for governor of Louisiana, has been airing television commercials about his experience fighting crime. Not to be outdone, a political action committee supporting gubernatorial candidate Steve Waguespack, the former head of the state’s business lobby and a previous aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal, has counter-claimed that Landry has done little to solve the problem as the state’s top law enforcement official.
State Treasurer John Schroeder, also a Republican candidate for governor, has been spending big bucks on television addressing the issue. Democratic candidate Shawn Wilson, a native New Orleanian, speaks passionately on the subject. Last week, District Attorney Jason Williams surprised many political insiders with his pronouncement that he, too, might enter the race because Landry’s commercials had offended his sensibilities.
With mass shootings, home invasions and other crimes spiraling all across the United States, crime, violence and guns are on citizens’ minds. According to a survey by the Gallup organization released in May, while concern about guns and crime has increased, government leadership is still the number one issue. Almost one in five American adults cite aspects of government as the top U.S. problem. After the economy — which ranked second — guns and crime rank fifth and sixth in April, when the survey was taken. Concern about both, however, have risen sharply since the previous survey in March and were the highest in the past year.
Voters are leery about government not just because who serves in Congress or occupies the Oval Office. Political divisiveness and political inaction consistently stand out. Gallup’s research also indicates that Democrats are much more focused on issues related to crime, guns and violence than Republicans or Independents. Overall, Democrats are less satisfied about the direction the country is headed, which could play into the governor’s race and the 2024 presidential election.
Though voters are hearing a lot of rhetoric regarding crime as a problem, we’re hearing very little specifics about what candidates intend to do to fight the issue and how they will fund those plans. Should proposals include beefing up the Louisiana State Police to have a greater presence in cities like New Orleans? Should additional after school and summer recreation programs be part of the solution? What about increased job training and mental health services? Expanded funding for early childhood education and other education reforms could be part of the long-term answer.
The question remains as to where funding will emanate for whatever programs the next governor proposes. After all, the Louisiana Legislature is not a bastion of bi-partisan camaraderie. A Republican governor would have an easier shot at building consensus.
Led by its conservative super-majority, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to confuse state legislatures with conflicting ruling on gun laws, according to a June 7 story in Huffpost. Justice Clarence Thomas took the lead in mandating a new standard that requires restrictions on gun ownership to be judged constitutional only if they are “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” in the 18th and 19th centuries, Huffpost reported.
Though state Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Shreveport, withdrew legislation this week that would have allowed adults to carry concealed handguns without a permit or training, similar laws are already on the books in many states. States that do not require a permit include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. A new law will soon take effect in Florida as well. If Louisiana’s next governor is a Republican, this legislation could easily be passed during the 2024 legislative session.
No good comes when folk who are not properly trained carry weapons. Yet the number of Americans who purchase and carry firearms will only increase as violence escalates. I met a young woman earlier this week who drove into the city from Gonzales to visit a veterinarian. She had only moved to Louisiana recently. Afraid when she reached the parish line, she said she felt safer because of the gun in her front seat.
On Friday (June 2), which was National Gun Violence Awareness Day, New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno announced the city is restarting its “violence interrupter” program to prevent retaliatory killings. The interrupters are street smart community members who can work with victims and their families to defuse violence before it spreads. The city’s partner in the program is University Medical Center, where most gunshot victims are treated. The program was considered successful before it inexplicably ended two years ago.
In a Brooklyn neighborhood, a violence interrupter program is one component of a citizens’ anti-gun organization dubbed Brownsville in Violence Out, which is responding to low-level street crime in cooperation with the New York Police Department. While New Orleans might not be ready for a formalized citizens’ self-defense effort, we are ready for a governor who will do more than just talk about crime.
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 email@example.com.