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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_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

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

  • Don_27t_20tred_20on_20me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    hlazurm, the reason why there aren't any opposing viewpoints is because there is little basis for one. Sure- you can bring up how England has a low violent crime base because of their anti-gun laws....but what about Switzerland? It's the completel opposite over there! You get to keep your firearm when you get out the service and the government even has sponsered ranges where they issue you ammo!

    Now, lets go over the incident rate with firearms...this is a Brady tactic that I know very well about. Especially when they boast their stats (like how they included people up to the age of 25 to include suicides deaths with firearms and labeled them "teens"). Did you know, more children die each year from drowning in their own baths than by firearms? Heck, more people die from heart failure eating too much trans fat than from firearms...let alone from legal citizens owning them!

    Sure, I'm sure there are a few examples that you can bring up about some tard with a gun...but they are so rare it is hardly worth mentioning. Did you know that there are more firearms in the US than there are people?

    Respect for firearms and proper training will always be better than "common sense" laws that only hinder legal citizens from owning guns to protect themselves or their loved ones.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Why does Betsy have to present an opposing viewpoint hlazurm? This is an article that is editorial in nature and voices her opinion. Why don't you write one and see if you can get it published....oh one here cares what you have to say.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    hlazurm, you're woefully ignorant of facts and reality. Try educating yourself, before showing what a fool you truly are.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Hlazurm: From the statements of the UK's armed forces I have served with downrange, fellow service members I have worked with who have been stationed there, and my parents who LIVE there... all completely contradict your statement: where do you learn that England had a low violent crime rate? Theirs exceeds the US per capita and has also been coined the most violent country in the EU by more than just these articles (admitedly a quick google search to substantiate the experiences I've been told by many people/residents). How are those gun laws working for them, again?

    Also, "An examination of citizens using their guns where the perp escaped (the use of the weapon was ineffective)." Is that truely ineffective? If the use of the gun stopped, that is...forced the violator to flee, and prevented a violent act from occuring (or occuring further) against the victim... I would say that was quite effective. I doubt the contrary scenario of not being armed would have had a more favorable outcome.

    Essentially, gun laws restrict only law abiding citizens.

  • Copy_of_me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    A "balanced" article would have stated the position of its opposing side also, examining its "common sense" conclusions and the supporting statistics to see if their side has merit or not. For instance, in the hypothesis that an armed citizenry would result in less violent crime, how does that hold when England, as an example, has a low incidence of violent crime and strong anti-gun laws? Is it cultural and, therefore, England can't be compared to our culture, the United States?

    Is violent crime a factor of gun laws or is the culture of violent crime the cause?
    An examination of citizens using their guns where the perp escaped (the use of the weapon was ineffective), or an innocent bystander was injured (where they may not have been otherwise), or the gun was stolen, etc. would have all been issues worth persuing in order to create a "well researched", complete and critical thinking article.

    Instead we have a preaching to the choir.

    I'd really like to see the true facts with the bias and appeals to the emotions reduced to zero.

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I have had my CCW license in the past and I am ready to renew that priviledge. Thank you for supporting us in supporting you.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article. I have always believed that most bad guys will think twice about going after someone if they think their victim is armed

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Well stated and presented! Great research work too...

  • Parkside_crest_new_12-15-08_copy_max50


    over 4 years ago


    This is a great read. I am a pro 2nd Amendment, and feel every citizen who is legally allowed to carry, should do so.

    For those of you that take advantage of H.R. 218 (Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act), here is an update:

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I agre 110% !!! NJ has a strict gun law, and it also has the #1 city in the COUNTRY for crime and violence, Camden.

    Tell me whats wrong here ?!?!?!?!?!?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article. In the state that I live in we now have the CCW, I believe that with a good training course any law abiding citizen can be an asset to the Police in certain situations. And also there is that little thing of the criminals not knowing if you are armed or not.

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Excellent article. My fervent wish is if you legally carry as a civilian learn to use what you carry. The legal BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) in Texas is .00 if you carry. With privilege there is responsibility.

  • Fallenherobadge-3-1_max50_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I really enjoyed this article, thank you Betsy! I am retired also and think civilians should be able to ccw and to be able to protect themselves/family from the bad guys, and lets be honest there are tons of bad guys armed. I think Illnois is the worst state for other Leo's to carry in, brothers in blue or not I have had nothing but bad experiences with their leo's as per my legal carry so when I meet them I am abit frosty. No matter the area you live in, protecting yourself/family is alot faster than dialing 911. And what about those family members of ours who are not Leo's? What if the bad guys break in their homes to rob or kill them, do we really want them to use a phone over lethal protection? I dont, it is a citizens responsibility to protect themselves first, then rely on Leo's.

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