Local problems also about guns

Sunday morning shortly after 11 a.m., police officers pored over a car left on a grassy field at Payne Street near Van Avenue, trying to determine how it was that 21-year-old Kardale Johnson ended up on the driver’s side with a bullet through his head.

Houma city police officers worked quickly to develop leads, relying on their experience and their ties to the community. They determined that among those observed running from the scene was 19-year-old Brandon Johnson of Norman Street. They also learned that the suspect was in a dark-colored Dodge Charger headed for Houma’s west side. Officers saw the car, and apprehended Johnson, who is now charged with first-degree murder.

Times reporters who spoke with police officials questioned whether – like an increasing number of shootings in Houma and surrounding communities – the crime was related to the scourge of illegal drugs that blights neighborhoods and wastes young lives, both those of victims and victimizers.

The answers given were, unsurprisingly, in the affirmative.

Yes, the shooting was drug-related. No further information was shared other than that, although the details, as they are wont to do, will see the light of day as prosecutions continue.

Both the officers and the residents who helped them are to be commended. The fast work Houma cops did is proof that the wall of silence which protects evil-doers is crumbling.

Necessary long-term solutions including mentorship programs and continued pressure from law enforcement are in progress, and community leaders seeking such solutions can’t be given enough praise.

But there is another element of halting the violence that requires study.

During the course of reporting on the violence recently, Times reporters asked law enforcement officials in the parish and the city how many reports they receive on an annual, monthly or daily basis of stolen firearms. They were unable to supply an answer.

Unless they were just having a busy day and didn’t have time to dust off the files, they couldn’t give an answer. Firearms thefts, they said, are not characterized differently in the local records.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Dagate was able to supply some stats, which indicate that from 2015 through November his office handled 102 cases of possession of firearms by convicted felons, and 41 cases of stolen firearms possession.

Here in the Bayou Region, where guns enjoy a culturally protected status, it is understandable that folks might be a little nervous about requirements for better record-keeping, which can lead to better assessments of the problem, including that which comes from people who should know better leaving guns in their cars unlocked.

The degree of this irresponsible behavior needs to be documented, and legislators, no matter how unpopular the task may be, need to address it.

Law enforcement officials have repeatedly said that the firearms used in the wave of violence claiming our communities were not for the most part bought at pawn shops, or from the sixty-six businesses in Lafourche and Terrebonne the ATF says are licensed federally as firearms dealers.

The guns, they acknowledge, are stolen. But the law in Louisiana does not distinguish between a Glock and an iPhone. State Rep. Beryl Amedee has said that laws penalizing gun owners are wrong. State Rep. Tanner Magee has said that while the idea might merit study, he already knows – as a freshman legislator – that the NRA and its adherents are too strong a lobby.

In short, such heroism is not politically convenient and therefore undesirable.

Those approaches, at a time when blood continues to be spilled in our communities, are not acceptable.

Likewise, the inability of law enforcement to properly document firearms thefts, so that the problem can at least be reasonably examined and discussed, keeps us from solutions rather than closer to them.

There is no reason we can find acceptable that a form or data cell cannot be developed that will give us a true picture of the problem. We suggest that as part of efforts to stem the violence, actions be taken now to develop the data, and then to do something about it. •