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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!

  • Img_0933_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Great article Sgt. Enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

  • 001_max50


    almost 5 years ago


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

  • Capt


    almost 5 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.

  • Wind_therapy-_angel_max50


    almost 5 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....

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    Great article. The second amendment guarantees the citizens right to keep and bear arms. In fact the second amendment is what sets us apart as Americans. States with conceal carry laws have less violent crime. I mean hey, if the bad guy thinks he may get shot while trying to rape or rob someone, he might just think twice.

  • Ronnay_001_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I agree Mongo. Background checks and training should go hand in hand when trying to obtain a firearm. The background check should encompass not only criminal history, but mental history / reserve as well. Is the potential firearm carrier quick to anger / judgment? Did he or she have a mental illness in the past? Does the person engage in substance abuse? What is their tolerance threshold like? Guns should be a last resort, not the first. Deadly force should be met by deadly force. Just because a citizen is allowed to carry a gun, should not give him or her the right to point it at someone for no reason or unjustified reason.

  • Img_2292_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Very well written article.

    I am a citizen who carries but I am a citizen who has been trained through the private and military sectors. I too do not believe that citizens without training should be allowed to carry. So I take it upon myself to train anyone on the range and off the range. My wife and I just left the indoor range yesterday and seeing her shaky, nervous and shy just proves to me even more that she and others must have training before they can carry.

    Currently I am a Oregon State Armed security officer and am in line to become a state certified weapons trainer for the private and corporate security sectors. This ranges in knowing your firearm inside and out to proper firing tactics. Oregon requires class room time as well as range time in order to be certified armed security officer. But to receive your CCW you only need to prove you transport valuables, personal deadly threats or simply no criminal record.

    I too am a firm advocate of well-trained, well-armed civilians.

  • Mike___rickey_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Yes Arm as many as we can but make sure they get training and a background check. Shoot don't shoot situations should be emphasized. Teach them how to ID themselves to Police and back up Officers if needed. Local PD's should have open training with and for CCW holders. I'm a retired Army MP and due to all the drivebys, carjacking, home invasions ect I got my CCW last year and am still an expert shot but I know procedure which is what needs to be taught to all CCW permit holders. Arizona just passed a carry law that is scary, NO training required, must be 21 with no record and you can carry concealed in state only. Talk about the "Wild West". Hope I never have to use my weapon on someone ever again but if needed I'm ready.

    Mike in Oklahoma ><>

  • Fm_cr_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    secopper451 said "Not upto the pigs to decide"....What he hell is that supposed to mean? Who are the pigs? And if you truly feel that way WTF are you doing on this site? Dude, don't be an A**!!

    Great article Betsy, well said. I have always appreciated the knowledge that we as a profession (most of us) believe that our constitution is correct in allowing citizens to protect themselves. I have always taught my trainees that everyone that is armed gets treated the same until their status is determined. Then, if they are legit, they get brushed off with an explanation (not an apology) and sent down the road. I have NEVER had a citizen complain about their treatment after we have explained why we do what we do. Not once in 31 years.

  • Munz_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I have always thought that citizens have the absolute right to keep bear arms. A responsible citizen is the best deterrent to crime out there. If they are prepared they are so less likely to be come a victim.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Nicely written and outlined with only the essential specifics

  • Never_forgotten_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Amen..on this article. As someone who has been involved in LE for many years, but not as a Sworn LEO I have many family members who are or have been. In the states that have allowed CCW.....crime went down. It's a proven fact and we all should have a right to protect ourselves, family, and property. Guns don't kill, it's the hands that carry them and have ill intentions that kill. But, I agree that to obtain a CCW permit there must be training and should be a yearly retest as well. The fact of the matter is that we will have 1 or 2 dumb-ass people that will use their gun in the wrong way, but if 10 are able to protect themselves or someone else's life, then it's all worth it. Abuse your right and it'll be taken from you. Stay Safe.

  • Me__new_orleans_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I, too, believe that citizens shuld be allowed to be armed (in fact, I believe that the Constitution guarantees it) but I also know that far too many people recieve far too little training. I am a 30+ yr Vet of the Navy Special Forces, a NAVSPECWAR Firearms Instructor/Range Safety Officer, and a NRA Certifed Instructor in 5 disciplines, plus have an NRA RSO rating. I still had to go through all the Firearms Safety classes to get a CCW and I was amazed at how little gun knowledge/experience many of those in the classes had. Although I have never had to shoot anyone, over the years, I have held 7 "perps" for the police (3 of whom were burglarizing my home) and helped the police subdue one drugged, extremely violent, armed assailant. Although I still have a house in the US, I now live mostly in South America, where I cannot "carry". My wife has been robbed once and I have been robbed twice. It is a VERY uneasy feeling to have to just stand there and hand over your "stuff" to some armed dirtbags on the street. Last year, a few blocks from my house, 4 armed punks robbed a businessman, then killed him even though he handed over everything. I feel much better when armed.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Good article.
    Remember: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.........

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Excellent article. I want to address those who feel that training must be a requirement before people chose to exercise ther 2nd Amendement right, which was recellently under mcDonald v.s. Chicago acknowledge by the Supreme court as a fundamental right. This right is a constitutional right. This means, it wasn't granted by the government. It was a God given right that the citizens had before the country was established. Our forfathers created the constitution to protect the rights that were already ours. I understand that logic dictates that guns are dangerous in the hands of an untrained individual, but, that is not enough to create restrictions of even require permits to exercise a God given right. We do not require training to exercise our first amendment, "Freedom of speech". We don't require training or certifications to be able to exercise that right. Speech can be as dangerous or even more dangerous than the right to bear arms. Speech can incite hate crimes, riotes and is usually the means of how most tyrants have gained power. That being said, please keep in mind that the second amendment is not about citizens protecting themselves from criminals, it is about citizens protecting themselves from government. Our forefathers put that in place to make sure our government never turned against its people.

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