Training >> Browse Articles >> Firearms


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!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    Very good article.

  • Iraqcampaignmedal-ribbon_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I agree 100%.

  • Brotherhood_badge_with_black_ribbon_max50_max50


    about 4 years ago


    As usual, Betsy, a very thoughtful article. Your journey of thought tracks my own. When I was a cop or Fed, I carried 24/7, everywhere. While I've enjoyed not carrying since I've retired, I am rethinking that position, based on the growing level of violence. I would feel pretty badly if someone died around me who could have been saved had I been carrying. Of course, the problem with private carry is that of not being covered by the government we worked for in the event of criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

  • Birdpoopavatar_max50


    about 4 years ago


    You nailed it. I'm all for trained, law abiding American citizens being armed.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    Gun control laws only protect the criminals from Law abiding citizens. If law abiding citizens are denied the right to keep and bear arms the only ones carrying weapons are cops and criminals. As a cop in NYC I know that we usually show up after the shooting has occurred and the PERP has fled the scene. But if the victim or witnesses were armed it would change things dramatically for the better. It will also serve as a deterrent as the criminal would know that the potential victim or bystanders may be armed. If you don't believe me look at all the states with liberal gun laws, they have very little gun crime. Now look at states with strict gun laws, they have the highest gun crimes in the country. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out. So all you people who are too blind or too stupid or just plain scared of allowing law abiding citizens to carry go hide under a rock and stay there until you wither and dry up.

  • Rrpd_car_max160_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Excellent article......................

  • Img0009_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Excellent article; thanks for writing it. I live in Seattle and remember the Green River killings. All the victims were prostitutes, and it made me angry that so few resources were being assigned to a major serial-killer case. If these young women had been the daughters of wealthy citizens, the case would have been solved much sooner because it would have been given the money and manpower required.

  • Img_3265_max50


    about 4 years ago


    "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."

    -With that statement you hit the nail on the head!!!! As always great job, good article.

  • Dscn1187_max50


    about 4 years ago


    By the way, I got on roll writing and forgot to say that I loved the article.

  • Kimber_ultra_cdp_max50


    about 4 years ago


    This is WHAT many of us in the non-LEO world have stated for years. It's even better coming from a retired and decorated LEO. I'm not a LEO but I support you ! I can't tell you how many women I have met that were sexually assaulted because the perp was armed and they were NOT ! There's a reason many Hollywood Lefties want no one armed....but...their own private security. It's called ELITISM !

  • Dscn1187_max50


    about 4 years ago


    In the United States we enjoy the fact that there aren't other Countries lined up to launch attacks on us, on our own soil. Some have credited this to the number of our citizens who are armed in their homes and on their persons at all times. We don't have a lot of military personnel active and ready here in America like some Countries do, but if you count the armed Citizens, Police, and other armed protection groups we easily outnumber most Countries’ Military Forces. With that said, I would also like to say I agree with "Cturino". Most people who do not know how to use firearms generally do not want to be around them. When I was in school however, everyone used to have to complete a hunter’s safety course which familiarized you with firearm safety. The amount of accidental shootings, etc. among children was down too. Then our Government decided we don't want anything about guns taught or brought up in our schools, so this curriculum was removed. I live and work as a Deputy Sheriff in a community in North Carolina where it is common knowledge that about every other person you see on a daily basis who lives here is armed, so what do we do when we go on calls; we treat every situation as if there is or could be a firearm present. It's common sense, no need for the Government to step in and make up a bunch of rules that only the good citizens are going to follow. I do believe that Firearms Dealers should run background checks before sales, but the whole permit scheme is just another Tax on the law abiding citizen (bad guys usually don't get permits). Ask any citizen of any communist Country if things might be a little different if every citizen had the option to own firearms. Ask our Native American brothers and sisters what happens when the Government talks you into giving up your arms under the pretense of peace. Last but not least, this was a comment from the article; "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." Well, among the other Nations involved in the comparison, what are their punishments for the crime of murder (Probably more serious than ours)? How many murders altogether (a firearm isn't the only way to kill someone)? How many of those Nations answered truthfully and were our stats given to them up front (most nations dislike America and would love to do anything to help disarm us)? Would love to say more, but don't have time now. My answer is YES, I would like for all of the good citizens in the country to be armed. If you get a chance watch this video about Switzerland’s Ready Reserve and why Switzerland has the lowest crime rate -

  • Untitledma28839986-0002_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Great article Sgt. Enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

  • 001_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Well put....Well said!! Keep up the good work Betsy!!

  • Capt


    about 4 years ago


    Most people in ND have guns. In the last three years it seems that Concealed Weapon Permit applications have increased 10 fold. North Dakota law has little restrictions on persons carrying firearms. I have no need either personally or professionally for anything more restrictive.

  • Angel_kincaid_park_2014_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Excellent article Sarge, Well put together

    I'm a CCW holder in State of Alaska and I continue to train with my guns, I feel it is important to understand the laws and know your weapon and how to use it. I'm a supporter of CCW for Law abiding Citizens
    Stay well trained, and be part of the solution, not the problem.

    BUMP! jwc6617
    Great article Sarge!
    All citizens should have the right and the ability, to defend themselves or other when confronted with violent crime. They should have all the right and responsibilities explained to them, demonstrate proficiency with the weapon, and have no violent criminal record before being issued a license.
    Wait a minute, that sounds like a Well Regulated Militia, a standing army of the people....

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.

Recent Activity

Irishcop1961 posted in: "Court date", 25 minutes ago.
DeputyStraight received the quiz result of "You handle danger with Courage", 37 minutes ago.
DeputyStraight received the quiz result of "You'd be a Dodge Charger", 37 minutes ago.
Recondo99 commented on: "Beverly Thoma Bullock", about 1 hour ago.
DeputyStraight received the quiz result of "You passed with flying colors", about 1 hour ago.