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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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  • Motor_cop_comic_max160_max50

    sgt457

    over 4 years ago

    1202 Comments

    Good article, Betsy, an congrats on the retirement! Most of the street cops that I know are fine with legal CCW, as we are usually smart enough to know that we can't be everywhere at once. A legally armed citizen can protect themselves and their families, and really, that's what really matters.

  • Img_0972_1_max50

    weekenderman

    over 4 years ago

    22 Comments

    "But how do we separate law abiding citizens from nutjobs?"

    If the police are not around they won't have to worry about determining who are the law-abiding citizens and which are the nutjobs. And once the police do arrive on the scene, we can safely assume that the one shooting at them would be the nutjob.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    RotaryWingUH1H

    over 4 years ago

    18 Comments

    Good gun control is hitting exactly what you're aiming at. I grew up with weapons and after many years in the military as well as various weapons course certificates and training to include small arms repair I think education is the key. Training and experience. I support the constitution, including the second amendment.

  • Zoe___tank_nov_2007_max50

    LuVonda

    over 4 years ago

    86 Comments

    Awesome article ! Thank You Sgt. Betsy ! and all of the rest of you for speaking up!
    I grew up in Illinois and even with the shootings of Officers there recently Daley still thinks that like the days of old. I now reside in Arkansas where the Castle Law last year reached out far enough to include ones' vehicle in a parking lot (after a sad day at a Mall where a man was shot to death @ his car, because someone wanted his car and money). Of course they got the guys, but that did not change anything for the mans' family :-(
    Too many times BAD things could have been stopped if an armed Citizen had of been there. LE cannot be everywhere at every moment and the good Lord knows that we cannot just stand by with our hands twisted and wait for the "Bad Guy" to pick us off.
    When the Bad Guys know the Good Guy may be or is, armed . . . it changes the game.
    Or as Mr. deClaire just posted . . . they know that "force will be met with force" . . . This is not a right that is taken lightly.
    Thank You . . . Thank You ALL!

  • John_max50

    emt_208

    over 4 years ago

    36 Comments

    May I Congratulate You on the most accurate conclusion of what will help save The United States of America. If every citizen whom deires a legal way to Protect themselves, they should be allowed that priviledge and or right. The Federal Government recently changed this to make it easier to own, possess a means of protecting Yourself. I am a Retired Police Officer and a Concealed Handgun Carry Instructor in the State of Arkansas. I push and Promote Peoples right to Carry A Concealed Handgun for their protection and or their family. If more Businesses are alerted to the fact they are legally Responsible for the safety of their customers, more would remove their No Guns Allowed Signage. The vast Majority of Armed Citizens whom Possess a CHC license will never use their Gun, except for Protection and an occasional practic. God Bless us All Support the Second Amendment.

  • Thi_seal_max50

    mpd_943

    over 4 years ago

    2486 Comments

    Gun Control is hitting your target.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    RotaryWingUH1H

    over 4 years ago

    18 Comments

    I agree completely. I have helped LEO's in the past and expect to do so again as needed. Just as in the military as a Combat Engineer before going to flight school and becoming an Aviation Warrant they reminded us we were backup for the Infantry who was backup for the MP's in crowd controls and assorted situations and we were trained in working these situations. It is a hard call as to who to allow but we do have a system in place for applying and approving CCW and I think more LEO's need to acknowledge and support this because it could be their lives a CCW could help save.

  • Ghost_rider1_max50

    mitra

    over 4 years ago

    16 Comments

    Guns dont kill people, People do.

  • 2011_range_day_2-19-10_max50

    USLawman1983

    over 4 years ago

    1572 Comments

    Totally agree with Betsy here. I passed along another recent article to my colleagues ref; getting civilians to help you. Because we can't afford to push law-abiding citizens away anymore. We should embrace their assistance if their willing to help and many are. Especially is they're former Miltiary or off-duty fire/EMS, and especially off-duty cops who better jump in there to help.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    rcooke1020

    over 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    Why is it that allowing honest citizens is assumed to create issues. Why is those states with the most restrictive gun laws have highest crime rates? Too many hide behind "should we allow everyone to be armed"! I am not against background checks, some shouldn't have guns. Should we deny everyone becasue of a few? I worked a rural county that had continual budget issues. There were times when only 2 or 3 deputies were on duty. We had small populatin and lagre partol areas. Even in real emergencies it could talk time to get on scene. I would much rather have a citizen armed than to arrive an find a dead or severely injuries victim

  • Policelinkbadge_max160_max50_max50

    Gombino

    over 4 years ago

    2658 Comments

    t1401hm, the "nutjobs" will be armed anyway. Yes, arm the people!

  • Lindgren1_max50

    HankG60GPD

    over 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    I agree, law abiding citizens, screened and trained in safe gun handling could make the differnce in body count incidents where the shooter can rampage unchallenged killing and maiming at will, until we arrive. The Manchester CT Beer Distributors incident is an example. Planned out and executed, had there been one legally armed employee there the death could have been less. Officers arrived in 4 minutes and entry in 6 but the 8 dead and two injured before they could act and the shooter took his own life.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    sortiebaby

    over 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    I am a retired federal agent who will be taking full advantage of HR 218

  • Images_max160_sq90_max50

    t1401hm

    over 4 years ago

    1754 Comments

    But how do we separate law abiding citizens from nutjobs? i guess arming everyone is the general concensus here?

  • 061609_cop_max50

    Mike_deClaire

    over 4 years ago

    48 Comments

    I couldn't agree more with this article. Law enforcement cannot be everywhere and law abiding citizens should be able to meet force with force.

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