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Cops and Armed Citizens

Cops and Armed Citizens

Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith

I grew up around guns. My dad, a farmer by trade, was also an auxiliary deputy with the local sheriff’s department so he owned a pistol or two. My cousins were hunters, and we always had a shotgun in the house that my father could get to if he needed to eliminate an errant raccoon in the garden or a family of moles tearing up our front yard. I was neither fascinated nor frightened by firearms, they were just a part of our lives in the rural Midwest.

When I graduated from the police academy in 1981, I was pretty excited about my “right to bear arms” both on and off duty. Although I was a patrol officer, I invested in a couple of concealed holsters for my big Smith & Wesson model 59 (completely the wrong handgun for a girl with the hands of an 8 year old, but that’s another article). I pretty much carried my gun everywhere. Young, single, and new to the “big city,” I spent lots of time in and around the Chicago area, enjoying the museums, the sports teams, the shopping, and of course, the nightlife. I never gave my safety much thought because (a) I was armed, and (b) I was usually in the company of other (armed) off duty cops. Life was good.

I’ve always enjoyed lively political discussions so I was happy to enter into debates about the Second Amendment and whether or not ordinary citizens really had a “right to keep and bear arms” as I continued to gain some patrol experience. At the time, I really didn’t understand what the big deal was. I was fine with people who were hunters, or enjoyed shooting sports, and even wanted to keep a “home protection” gun in their bedroom, but as a young cop, I was pretty sure I didn’t want ordinary, untrained people walking around “my” streets carrying concealed handguns. I mean, if everyone had a gun, how could we tell the good guys from the bad? If everyone was armed, wouldn’t people be shooting each other over parking spaces and other petty issues? Besides, I secretly (and selfishly) enjoyed the feeling of superiority in knowing that I was one of the few people allowed by Illinois law to carry around a loaded gun. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

In 1989 I was invited to travel with the University of Illinois’ “Fighting Illini” men’s basketball team to the Final Four in Seattle, Washington. My uncle was the head coach so my dad and I were going to fly on the team plane. What a blast! Unfortunately, this was about the same time that serial killer Ted Bundy was all over the news, the “Green River Killer” investigation was in full swing, and I was obsessed with reading Seattle-based author Ann Rule’s true crime books. Not exactly a great time for me to be heading for Washington State. But hey, I was cop! I got to take my gun to Seattle, carry it everywhere, and feel safe and secure. Great for me, but it got me thinking about all those young female murder victims; many of them close to my age. What if one of them had been armed? Could she have saved herself and ultimately, many others? And back in Illinois we had our own famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, still in the news. He killed 33 young men and boys before he was arrested. Hadn’t they deserved the legal right to able to try and protect themselves to the best of their ability?

Two and a half years later, on October 16, 1991, the infamous Luby’s Cafeteria shooting occurred in Killeen, Texas. In what we would now call an “active shooter” situation, George Hennard drove his pick up truck through the front of the restaurant and was able to stalk, shoot, and terrorize the 80 lunchtime patrons, killing 23 and wounding another 20 before police cornered him and he turned a gun on himself. He’d been able to reload several times before police could arrive, and there were no armed citizens to challenge him. I was now a patrol sergeant and really starting to really re-evaluate my stance on citizen carry, and frankly, the Luby’s incident scared the heck out of me. After all, just like my state, the law in Texas at the time forbade citizens from carrying handguns. The Texas “serious crime” rate was 38 % above the nation average. After the post-Luby’s passage of the CCW law, serious crime in Texas has dropped 50% faster than the United States as a whole. Illinois, however, continued to prohibit CCW.

The whole citizen carry issue, often mixed in with the broader debate over “gun control” in general, has been terribly politicized and the debate rages on to this day. Yes, the United States is the leader in “per capita gun deaths among industrial nations,” a statistic that gun control advocates love to throw around. However, as most cops will tell you, the issue is a whole lot more complicated. One of the best resources out there is John Lott’srecently updated book “More Guns, Less Crime.” Basically, Lott concluded in an 18 year study that states who allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons saw violent crime goes down. Pretty logical stuff; the more law abiding citizens who train and arm themselves, the less victims we have. He has continued to study this issue objectively but passionately; every crimefighter should read his work.

My adopted home town, the city of Chicago, is a perfect example of Lott’s conclusions. We’re averaging 20 – 40 shootings a weekend, three Chicago cops have been killed this year, off duty, since May, and yet Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation! Who’s got the guns? The cops and the bad guys; and frankly, the cops tend to be out-numbered and often out-gunned. All the gun laws in the world aren’t going to keep thugs from owning, carrying and using firearms, so all the City of Chicago is doing is keeping law abiding citizens from legally obtaining personal protection firearms.

I’m retired now, but as I travel throughout the United States, training with and filming law enforcement personnel, I take advantage of HR 218; I am always armed, and I’m grateful for the privilege. I am now a firm advocate of well-trained, well-armed civilians, and this is an issue that police officers must get more involved in. With layoffs, cutbacks, workplace violence and the raging “war on cops” in the United States, we may have to depend on our citizens to step up, jump in, and help out in an armed encounter. After all, you don’t have to have a badge to wear a white hat and be one of the good guys. Stay safe!


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  • Reaper2_max50

    gardenanightrider

    about 4 years ago

    200 Comments

    well written, thank you.

  • Policememorial---a_max50

    Collegecop_WA

    about 4 years ago

    2380 Comments

    Great article Betsy, thank you for your insight!

    I am extremely happy to live/work in a "Shall Issue" state like Washington, where barring a criminal background or a history of mental illness anyone 21 or over can obtain a concealed pistol license and exercise their right to carry. Before I became a LEO I had a CPL, first in Maine and then in WA, and I have maintained one as an option for when I don't want to ID myself as an LEO while I am carrying. I do not subscribe to the guns + people = higher crime BS, I happen to believe that an armed society is a polite society for the very fact Betsy pointed out - the bad guys can't be sure who is armed and capable of defending themselves if they start mischief. And I have not yet had an adversarial confrontation with anyone who I have come in contact with who was a CPL holder and carrying, in fact they are some of the most polite and cooperative people I have dealt with.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    chitownladycop

    about 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    I do believe that there should be some training for citizens (I'm a LEO in Chicago) but as she said we are outgunned by the gang bangers and other criminals, not law abiding citizens. Maybe if there were a CCW in Chicago criminals would think twice about doing what they do to everyday citizens. For me I'm shooting first and asking questions later.

  • Hernandez_max50

    Chernmax

    about 4 years ago

    212 Comments

    24 Years in the Military, 13 years as a Gunners Mate, 8 Years military security and law enforcement including guarding nuclear weapons. 5 tours to the Gulf with 60+ Visit, Board, Search, & Seizure take downs of various dowels, cargo, and container ships. Coast Guard LEDET trained also boarding and searching suspect drug runners in the Caribbean. Commission officer for 11 years and now retired and a civilian, the idiot state of MD doesn't trust responsible citizens with a CCW permit. But the great state of Virginia (I work there also) issued me an Out of State CCW permit. Why are liberal idiot restricting people from legally carrying guns who are willing to get licensed, trained, finger printed, register their firearms included turning over a fired round for ballistics matching through your weapon. Police are not the first responder, a well trained, responsible citizen in a crisis situation is!!! I want my right to protect my family and feel safe when transiting threw potential dangerous areas when conducting business. Bravo to all agencies of law enforcement and even UNARMED, if I ever saw a member of law enforcement in a crisis situation, I'd HELP!!! But that's just me...

  • Westerngade1_max50

    redwolf

    about 4 years ago

    42 Comments

    I was a police officer in Florida, where the CCW law is in effect. Every encounter I had by a law abiding, armed citizen was a very positive one. I strongly support allowing law abiding citizens the right to be armed and believe it is a huge deterrence to crime. I think that the training classes that were required in Florida did a great job and helped weed out the more reckless individuals. I'm worn out with the rhetoric about gun control. The bottom line is weapons are weapons and violence is violence. If the thugs aren't sure who is armed and who isn't, it causes them to think twice.

  • Copy_of_marine_photo_edited_edited_max50

    MarineMPSpecReac

    about 4 years ago

    230 Comments

    Most people in Arizona still are wanting to attend the CCW classes as well as other shooting proficiency courses.

  • Chris_and_i_in_uniform_max50

    JP503

    about 4 years ago

    7616 Comments

    Indianas has had that law for a long time Dobey. All you have to do is pay for the application and then get approved and you can carry with no training at all.

  • Sw12_max50

    436

    about 4 years ago

    574 Comments

    Good article

  • Gary_on_motor_2002_1_max50

    DobeyGillis

    about 4 years ago

    72 Comments

    I agree that citizens have the right to carry If they are trained correctly. The new Arizona law allows anyone over 21 to carry concealed WITHOUT attending ANY training. That does scare me!

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    police1877

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    I believe the more law abiding citizens,the less victims.I live in Massachusetts now and have my class A LTC.I find it strange that the license is givin by the police department in each city.One city says you can have a Class A LTC and a mile down the road the other city says you can have a class A (RESTRICTED).You can only carey the gun to range or to go hunting.I also have a CCW in Florida. That license covers all of Florida not just one or two cities.Anyway great artical and I believe all law abiding citizens should have LTC CCW.Protect yourself don't rely on others to do what you can do.They might not get there in time.Police officers do what they can,but more or less they show up after the fact.DON'T BE A VICTIM ,,TAKE THE POWER BACK! Good luck and be safe

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    macfire73

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    I agree with this 100%. That's why I love NH with the open carry law. Commons sense says if bad guys know citizens are carrying and they see people carrying they might think twice before robbing or shooting up an establishment.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    plawlor

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    well written and well said!

  • Policeofficer03_max50

    PAPoliceman

    about 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    Nice article Betsy. I believe that one woman at Luby's that day had a handgun in her car and was carrying it in accordance with Texas law. It was Luby's cafeteria that prohibited guns. The woman who wrote the book from Luby's to the Legislature followed the rules and locked her gun in her car before dining with her parents thus becoming an unarmed witness to the carnage.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    tucsontrek

    about 4 years ago

    60 Comments

    The Great State of Arizona, as of July 29, 2010 now allows ALL of its citizens (except those who are prohibited possessors) the RIGHT to carry a concealed weapon. If you can breathe, and haven't been to prison, you can walk around strapped. And we've always enjoyed open carry. Now THAT, my friends, is what the Second Amendment is all about. You can bet good money that the criminal element will think twice about preying on Arizona citizenry now that their victim has the potential to be packin' iron. The James-Younger gang learned that hard lesson in Northfield, MN a long time ago....

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Zzooomm

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    "…I take advantage of HR 218; I am always armed, and I’m grateful for the privilege."

    I would argue that it is not a privilege but a right.

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