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!

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago

    252 Comments a civilian, I would suggest telling the police that you legally armed. I have stepped in to help police officers on several occassions and for the most part, until the situation is under control, they are simply happy to know that I have their back. But you MUST announce your intentions of you become the bad guy and a potential target for anyone in uniform.

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I believe the right to keep and bear arms is a citizen's right and should be honored everywhere. However, I also advocate that those who wish to carry a concealed weapon should be trained in the proper and safe use of that firearm.

  • White_shirt_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I feel citizens should be armed. My complaint is the minimal amout of training. Once the permit is issued there is no requirement for continuing education for citizens.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Great article! long live the 2nd Amendment.
    We need more of us to speak up on the CCW laws.

  • Gusporch_max50


    over 4 years ago


    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....

  • Joshwork_max50


    over 4 years ago


    In your opinion, what would be the best way for a legal CCW License holder to inform a Police Officer he/she is armed in a situation?

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    As a civilian and a CCW license holder, I agree that other states should allow private citizens to obtain license to carry if they so choose. It will not deter the fact that criminals will get guns one way or the other. I work for State Government, what bothers me is we are not allowed to carry in a school where there is NO security whatsoever, not even cameras. Due to the rise in school violence, I think attention needs to be considered to allow administration to carry concealed. Many of the schools are in a rural area which would require a 30 min. drive for LE to arrive... a lot can happen in 30 min. when you have a kid that brings a gun to school. Just a thought...

  • Spartan_cops_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Nice article!

    Chicago's gun laws goes to show that they need more than just a residency requirement for LEO's in order to reduce crime.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 4 years ago


    The city crime rate is also why a lot of people have large dogs, which are more difficult and expensive to keep and train (or be trained) than the use of handguns for protection. I walk two dogs four times a day; and nobody bothers me although in one quarter of 2008 we had 17 [drug and gang-related] murders in this district of San Jose. I have a question, though. What is the proportion of killers who have been through Federal psychiatric experimental programs, Monarch, Montauk, MKUltra? I have to wonder if some of these serial killers haven't been trained [Manchurian Candidate, remember?]

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Very good points. If only our politicans would understand the full impact of "gun control laws"

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Well, that's just a plain shame in Wisconsin. I love me my retired status from the California Department of Corrections and my ability to CCW without any problem.

  • Dave_s_passport_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Why doesn't anyone bring a class action lawsuit against those chiefs for not complying with the law?

  • Cb17_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Some cops do not want retired cops carrying under HR218. While law now for 6 years now, there are Chief's and Sheriff's in Wisconsin who refuse to issue a retiree's a photo ID card. Now I am a full time resident of Florida and CCW under Florida's CCW laws. Stll though, I am not permitted to CCW under HR218 because the chief in the department I retired from refuses to issue retirees photo ID cards as required under HR218. In Wisconsin cities, you will find the bad guy CCW in violation of laws while the Chief in the city disarms those retirees trained in the use of deadly force and that of CCW. So while the article here speaks about citizen CCW, there are those in police work which will not permit there own trained retirees from CCW by refusing to issue a Photo ID card. When I return home to Wisconsin, I cannot CCW. But think of what the liability on the chief should I or some member of the public involved in a crime, not be able to defend that crime due to the choice the chief made?

  • Logo_20bus_20card_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I agree with Sgt. Smith on all of her comments but with the following caveat. First let me state that I am a concealed handgun permit holder in Louisiana. Do I carry all the time? Not necessarily but it's more to do with my selection of handgun rather than a conscious effort not to carry. I mean, it is hard to conceal a Glock 22 under my clothes. I am an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and I agree that if we ban guns only criminals and police will be toting. And whoever heard of a law-abiding criminal??

    My caveat is this - in order to carry a concealed or even an open carry weapon like in some states, a person should be required to complete a course that not only covers your legal rights and reponsibilities but also a proficiency course that demonstrates you can hit close to where you aim (especially under stress) and also that you have the ability to select the right target under the same stress. Maybe not as rigourous as the police are required to demonstrate but at least let's make sure that the armed citizen is trained. I also would not having a problem requalifying yearly as I consider the ability to carry a weapon not only a right but a privilege. I agree that law enforcement officers can face the problem of identifying the bad guy if there are multiple weapons in the area but a little common sense on the part of the officer and the armed citizen can go a long way in preventing accidential shootings. By the way, I am looking for a smaller weapon I can conceal. So soon, I will be toting a lot more than I do now! And I try to make it to the range at least once a month to burn through 100 rounds or so just to make sure I can hit where I aim. Now if I could find a true combat range in my area I will feel complete!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article. I have always been a big avdocate of law-abiding citizens being able to arm themselves. In the world we live in today, it has never been more clear to me that we as Law-Enforcement professionals need all the help we can get.

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.