Mike Perlstein/WWLTV/ May 1

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s new gun law that allows almost anyone to carry a concealed weapon once they turn 18 has sparked concerns about more senseless bloodshed in a state that already ranks among the worst in the nation.

So far, those grim warnings have fallen on deaf ears, as New Orleans officials fight a losing battle for exceptions, even for limited carve-outs like the French Quarter.

But on top of the threat of more gun violence, experts say that making concealed weapons legal will also take away one of the city’s most successful crime-fighting tools.  

The tactic is simple: a concealed gun gives officers the grounds under current state law and the U.S. Constitution to stop a suspect for the misdemeanor charge of illegal carrying of a firearm.

“Using this concealed weapons law is one added tool in the arsenal to fight crime,” former NOPD commander Marlon Defillo said. “This type of an arrest is critical to reducing crime in the community.”

A WWL Louisiana analysis of NOPD gun stops over the first two months of 2024 includes numerous cases that, on July 4 when the permissive new law kicks in, New Orleans police officers will no longer be able to make.

Corey Bozeman, 48, served decades in prison on two separate armed robbery convictions before a gun arrest in February led police to book him with additional charges involving cocaine, marijuana, felon with a firearm and battery on an officer, court records show.

In another part of town in February, officers say they spotted the distinctive outline of a concealed handgun when they stopped two men –  Charlie Tenner, 23, and Donald Miller, 23 – and booked them with carrying three pistols and possession of marijuana packaged for sale, all within a school zone.

In the 7th Ward, at the corner of Allen and North Dorgenois streets, police say that on Feb. 2, they spotted Djohn Bryant, 30, with the tell-tale bulge of a gun in his waistband.

After a struggle, special operations officers seized the gun, which gave them grounds to search Bryant. A police report contains the list of other illegal items found by officers: marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and a potentially deadly amount of fentanyl. Bryant, a career criminal on parole after he already served a 10-year sentence for being a felon with a gun, is now facing that charge again on top of nine other charges.

“None of the other charges would have evolved if it were not for the police observing the suspect carrying a concealed weapon,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a non-profit criminal justice watchdog group. “Gun stops like these routinely lead to more serious charges involving drugs, stolen guns and suspects wanted in more serious crimes.”

“Let’s not go backward on gun violence,” NOPD Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick said in February when the new law passed. “And this bill not only puts us going backward, but also endangers every law enforcement officer out here because knowing you’re carrying does not just give us just immediately the opportunity to check you out.”

Gun stops in New Orleans dropped dramatically in 2020 when the COVID pandemic hit and the NOPD dwindled to a record-low number of officers. In mid-2022, the department re-started the pro-active crime-fighting tactic, It quickly paid off, according to statistics compiled by the MCC.

The commission’s analysis shows that major violent crimes – murders, shootings, armed robberies and carjackings – began decreasing as gun stops increased. For example, in the first three months of 2021, there were 142 gun arrests and 420 violent crimes. In the first three months of 2023, there were 347 gun arrests, but violent crimes dropped to 341. By the fourth quarter of 2023, the city registered a multi-year low of 218 violent crimes.

“You started to see as a result, significant felony arrests made for repeat and violent offenders and we saw violent crime go down,” Goyeneche said. “There’s a correlation between pro-active gun enforcement, which the police department starting doing again in the summer of 2022, and the dramatic decreases in crime.”

The gun stops reveal underlying felonies a majority of the time, NOPD statistics show. Out of a total of 930 gun arrests from March 2023 through February 2024, 592 – or 64 percent – led to felony charges.

Even during Carnival, when wholesale gun sweeps in the French Quarter flip the statistics and lead to mostly misdemeanor cases of illegal carrying of a firearm, officers find some more serious offenders.

Such was the case of Keaton Manghane, 24, who was caught carrying a machine gun on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras day. Manghane has already pleaded guilty in federal court.

But on July 4th, that illegal carrying law will be wiped from the books. And officers will no longer have grounds to stop someone like Manghane, a career criminal from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“It’s not OK,” Kirkpatrick said in the earlier press briefing. “It was not thought through.”

With NOPD troop strength still badly depleted, gun stops are among the few proactive tactics the department has remaining. District task forces have been disbanded. Traffic stops are rare. The major narcotics unit is a relic from the past. But the department has openly increased gun confiscations each of the past two years, from 2,097 in 2021 to 2,943 last year. This year was on pace to top that, with more than 800 over the first three months, but most of those stops will no longer be allowed on July 4.

“What you’re doing, in essence, is you you’re handcuffing police officers in doing their job,” Defillo said.

Defillo, a 32-year NOPD veteran, remembers when he was a young patrol officer making what at first seemed like a routine gun arrest.

“I turned to my partner, and I said, the guy on the corner has a gun because you can see the bulge in it under his t-shirt,” he said.

After a tense struggle with the suspect, Defillo ended up making one of the most significant busts of his 32-year career.

“We were able to subdue him and come to find out he was wanted for murder,” Defillo said.

In a couple of months, whether the concealed gun is a pistol, assault rifle or machine gun, New Orleans police – and their fellow officers and deputies throughout the state – will be forced to look the other way.