Can you blame them? Katrina proved that anarchy will be stoked by local and state elected officials when crisis strikes. It’s better to be able to defend yourself, than not.

Sixty-four-year-old Vivian Westerman rode out Hurricane Katrina in her 19th-century house. So terrible was the experience that she wanted two things before the 2006 season arrived: a backup power source and a gun. “I got a 6,000-watt generator and the cutest little Smith & Wesson, snub-nose .38 you ever saw,” she boasted. “I’ve never been more confident.” People across New Orleans are arming themselves – not only against the possibility of another storm bringing anarchy, but against the violence that has engulfed the metropolitan area in the 19 months since Katrina, making New Orleans the nation’s murder capital.

The “cutest little Smith & Wesson…” My kind of lady.

Requests for concealed carry permits are up. Time at shooting ranges is up (true gun control at work, that). Gun sales are brisk. And it all makes absolute sense.

“People are in fear of their lives. They’re looking for ways to feel safe again,” said Mike Roniger, manager of Gretna Gunworks in Jefferson Parish.

They have every reason to be.

Citizens, the tourism industry, police and politicians officials have been alarmed by the wave of killings in New Orleans, with 162 in 2006 and 37 so far this year. A Tulane University study put the city’s 2006 homicide rate at 96 slayings per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation.

National Guardsmen and state police are patrolling the streets of New Orleans. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, which posted a record 66 homicides in 2006, the sheriff sent armored vehicles to protect high-crime neighborhoods.

It’s a quagmire. We should obviously have the National Guard retreat to bases and stand aside while the violence takes its course, right, Hillary? No?

Well, this is America, and the South at that. Normal folks don’t succumb to wanton violence easily.

Westerman, an artist who lives in the city’s Algiers neighborhood, is prepared to use deadly force.

“I’m a marksman now. I know what I’m doing,” she said. “There are a lot of us. The girl next door is a crack shot.”

“The girl next door is a crack shot..” Sexy.