Thursday, September 21, 2006


Tensions Rise as Katrina Refugees' Benefits Run Out




Townhall.com - A gun shop is running a radio commercial advising Houstonians to arm themselves against Katrina evacuees, contributing to rising tensions between longtime residents and the storm refugees who have been blamed for the city's rising crime rate.

Gun shop owner and radio talk-show host Jim Pruett said Thursday that he started running the ad a few weeks ago after hearing a TV interview with a Katrina evacuee in Houston implied he would have to turn to crime if his government assistance ran out.

"There are many evacuees here who are working," said Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett's Guns & Ammo in Houston. "They have become Houstonians now. That is fantastic. That is what you are supposed to do. You are not supposed to threaten the place you are working in."

The city welcomed at least 250,000 evacuees after Katrina swamped New Orleans last year. As many as 120,000 evacuees remain in Houston.

According to police, Katrina evacuees are suspects or victims in 59 of Houston's 262 homicides between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26. Residents in upper-middle-class west Houston have blamed evacuees for violent crime rates that have increased almost 14 percent in one district and homicides that have nearly doubled in another.

Pruett's radio ad says: "When the `Katricians' themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is going to go up if they don't get more free rent, then it's time to get your concealed-handgun license."

Pruett, 62, said that gun sales at his store are up 50 percent from last year but that he was uncertain whether it had anything to do with fear of the evacuees.

State figures show that from January to Sept. 1, the number of concealed-carry permits issued for handguns was up almost 25 percent from the same period a year ago in in Harris County, which includes Houston.

Black activists planned a community meeting Thursday evening to "end the conflict" between Houston and New Orleans. They planned to discuss Pruett's radio ad.

The meeting was also expected to address comments made earlier this month by gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, who attributed a spike in Houston's crime rate to "crackheads and thugs" from New Orleans.