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AFP/File Photo: Tony Fazzio, a salesman at Precision Firearms & Indoor Range in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, demonstrates...

BATON ROUGE, United States (AFP) - Marshall Morgan is selling guns faster than he can replace them amid security fears in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"We could hardly keep up. We would sell out of everything," said Morgan, owner of Precision Firearms and Indoor Range in the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge.
He estimated that his sales are 10 times what they were before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the US Gulf of Mexico coast August 29.

The storm caused catastrophic flooding and devastation in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, displacing more than a million people and leaving the city of New Orleans swamped and emptied of its people.

Many of those displaced have settled in Baton Rouge, nearly doubling the city's normal population of 228,000.

The storm's aftermath also brought a wave of crime and violence, with reports of armed gangs patrolling New Orleans with looted weapons, stealing whatever they wanted. There were reports that people seeking shelter in the city's Superdome sports stadium were raped and murdered, and rescue workers were fired on several times.

State and US authorities said a massive influx of police from all across the United States, along with 50,000 National Guard troops, has restored order to New Orleans and other hurricane-ravaged areas.

But residents remain jittery.

New Orleans has always been a dangerous city because of crime, "and people know that and that's why these people want guns," Morgan said. There's also "the fear of the bad element getting permanently displaced here," he said.

Among the popular sellers at his store is the Colt AR-15, a 900-dollar semiautomatic copy of the US military's M-16 rifle.

'We've been selling a lot. We sold a load of AK-47s, too," said salesman Tony Fazzio, standing in front of a half-empty display case.

In Covington, north of New Orleans, signs have sprung up warning looters would be shot, and residents have erected roadblocks to check identification.

"We shoot looters," read the cardboard sign at the entrance to the River Oaks subdivision, with the word "shoot" underlined twice for emphasis.

Many residents openly carry guns, while others flock to 100-dollar classes required to obtain a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.

"Every time we schedule a new date for a concealed-carry class, it fills up," Morgan said.

In Metairie, a New Orleans suburb, Oscar Paysse and Brant Plaisted carried .357 Magnum revolvers as they rescued their belongings from their flooded homes. They said they had seen widespread looting in the wake of Katrina, and were prepared to protect their property.

"The policeman told us, 'You got a pistol, shoot to kill'," Paysse said.

The boom in gun sales also is boosted by New Orleans police officers who lost their weapons in the storm's aftermath and need to re-equip in order to help secure the city, said Don Hogan, owner of Baton Rouge Police Supply.

"They're looking to come up here to buy guns so they can go back down there and work," he said. "It's been wild around here."
 
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