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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!

  • Photo_00006_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I think its great that the ordanary citzen can be armed most people no whats right and whats wrong , they will help the police if their is a robbery or some other felony if given the chance the state with ccw permits the crime rate has gone down in those states so if you see a person carring a weapon give him or her a chance i would like to see the states give the citizens achance for more training

  • Officer_bob_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Could not have stated it better. I'd like you alongside me anytime, Lady.
    CCW and LEOSA instructor in AZ.

  • Me_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Very well written....for a country On a serious note, I left LE 12 years ago but I have always and intend to continue carrying a concealed weapon. I have been in situations where a local police officer was in a situation where his back-up was distant and his need for one was immediate. Fortunately, I was able to provide that officer with back-up until other officers arrived and I have only been chastised by one department for doing so. Some of us think they don't need private citizens working with LEOs and that is something that should be thought out more on the part of these officers. When I was on the job, I knew most of my locals were armed and had permits to carry and it made me feel safer in a county with 24 deputies and 87 square miles to cover. That's the long way of saying back-up was typically 20 mintues or more away at any given time. However, I do advocate TRAINING for anyone wishing to carry a firearm, whether it's a civilian or another officer. And the mindset is just as important as the use of a firearm. If you're not willing to take a life, you have no business carrying a gun. It will only get you hurt. There is no time to think when you're in an active shooter situation. One moment's hesitation is all the bad guy needs to take your life. Stay safe out there, all of you that choose to carry. Firearms in the hands of this country's citizens is what established this country and made it great. For all who are not history buffs, think about this. During WW II, the Japanese crippled this country at Pearl Harbor. They could easily have sailed east and attacked the West Coast of the US. The only thing that stopped them, after some discussion between Admiral Yamamoto and the Emperor, was their knowledge that American citizens were armed and would come to the aid of what was left of our military machine. They FEARED the armed American citizen and that prevented them from attacking the mainland. Ok, I'm off my soapbox so once again STAY SAFE OUT THERE and God Bless the USA.

  • Dscn0105_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Clear, concise, and commendable. Thank you, from a CCW holding citizen.

  • Fmf_badge_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    A well written and thought out article. I for one would stand next to my local LEO's if they needed assistance. As a disabled veteran and a trained medical professional I would not hesitate to stop and provide aid to any LEO who is in trouble and help is still a long way off. When I travel about my state I carry a handgun which I am allowed to carry under the state constitution. I have carried it into numerous business without any trouble nor have I been barred from a business for carring a side arm. I only have a problem with those who do not know what they are doing or have no training with a weapon. I just wish that the courts would stand up to those who use a weapon illegally or enforce those gun laws that are on the books, we do not need more. To all LEO's out there BE SAFE and careful on your patrols!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Great stuff!! I love the gun control debate, yet hate how some can be so blind...I wish more was being done in support of arming responsible citizens.

  • Guard_dog_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Great article and perspective. I got a permit and started carrying a gun just about everywhere a few years before I became a LEO and here's why. On November 20, 2005 I was on my way to the mall in Tacoma WA with my wife and 4 boys. We were running a little late so we decided at the last minute to go to a mall closer by. As we were leaving the mall, my mother called in an uncharacteristic panic asking where we were. When she told me there was a SWAT stand-off with a gunman at the Tacoma mall my heart stopped. Had we been a few minutes quicker getting out of the house, we would have been there. As I played out that scenario in my mind over the next several days I asked myself how I would have protected my family. I could only throw myself over one of my loved ones - which one? Being the analytical thinker that I am, I arrived at the only successful scenario. I'd have to kill the shooter. Could I as a pastor do that? In a heartbeat. He made his choices. My children did not. I got a CPL and have carried a gun ever since. I do have a problem with unskilled people carrying guns around, so I do support having to pass at least a basic firearms safety and skills test. We require that of police officers, so why not for civilians too?

  • Est_training_with_kansas_city_metro_037_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Great article.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    Sgt. Smith is a true role model and a positive influnece. She makes her points clear and I agree with her 100%.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Nice to see a police officer support "the Rigt to Keep and Bear Arms" for a change! Unfortunately here in Kollectivistafornia most LEOs (no longer Peace Officers) HATE the thought of some mere mundane carrying a gun for self defense. They truly enjoy having that monopoly of force and I have even had several tell me as much. I know friends in other states paint a different picture but it is a fact of life here. It has gotten so bad that most military veterans I know (myself included) probably would not come to the aid of a police officer anymore due to the bad blood which now exists between many peaceable citizens and the police due to their heavy handed approach to everyone (the everyone's a perp mindset) and being nothing more than armed revenue agents for the city these days while the gang bangers and real thugs stroll free.

    I find many of the comments here to be laughable as most seem to feel they are doing us a favor by allowing us the privilege of carrying a firearm so long as we jump through the approved hoops. For those of you who have never really read the Constitution, Declaration, or the philosophy which inspired those documents I don't need anyone's permission to carry a firearm anywhere, I was born with that right and no piece of parchment confers it on me. The parchment merely codifies some of my rights as a free born human being. I carry when and where I choose. Being a peaceable citizen (notice I didn't say law abiding as I break YOUR law every time I carry without permission) I am the very least of your worries however most of you here will probably be up in arms that some of us still feel free enough to do exercise our rights without your permission. When you happen to come across one of us we will discover whether or not you truly understand and uphold that Oath that you swore to the Constitution when you discover we do not possess one of your highly esteemed CCW permits.

    Anyway, I applaud Sgt Smith as she at least has the courage to tell the truth and I wish we had many more like her!

  • America_20pride_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I agree with john887 the socialist republic of Illinois as my capt. call it. We required to do ice-qt for federal government this same test all federal government agent have take, We also have have Firearm control card from state to carry as {PSO} under Federal protective service.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    Ok, so why don't our state Rep's "get it"?? Illinois is only one of TWO states left without some type of concealed carry law....WHEN are we going to finally join the rest of the country??

  • Terry00007_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I was born and raised in NYC. NO CCW PERMITS PERIOD! The only people eho have guns in NYC are Cops and Crooks! High crime rate? YES!! I now live in Ohio. In the State of Ohio you do need a CCW permit to carry concealed firearms. They are easy to obtian if you have a clean record (NO FELONIES) and take the proper firearm safety and handling classes. BUT, in the State of OHIO you do NOT NEED A PERMIT TO CARRY OPENLY. Thats right. Strap a gun on your hip or your shoulder and walk down the street like a cowboy and it's perfectly legal as long as you are NOT under felony restriction. Sure, you'll get stopped by every cop checking your ID and making sure that you're legal.... but you make that criminal think twice about picking you as their victim. Plain and simple... the states that restrict their law abiding citizens from carrying... are the states with the highest crime rates in the country. ENOUGH SAID!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    She makes really good. points. One thing I always say when in a debate about this topic is, if they're going to break the law, the won't think twice a bout breaking it one more time to get a gun illegally.

  • Strauss_2008-1_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Sgt, Smith makes the relevant points. Nuff siad. Thank you!

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