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!

  • Iceland_5


    over 4 years ago


    The one good thing about being and officer in Illinois is every time I walk into a store or place to eat 99% of the time I am the only one that legally has a firearm on them. With that said i feel that if there were more law abiding citizens out there with firearms the criminals would think twice about going into a store, or any where and try to take the place over and do what they want. Very good article!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Point and case as to why citizens armed with guns is a good thing..... I do not recall the exact date, My friends live on the west side of Rockford one of which was at work at the time of this incident. One of their kids came home to tell of a car accident involving a Rockford Police Officer.The Mom contacted 911 and told the dispatcher of the incident and further advised that the Officer was unconcious as a result and that she had a gun in the house. The dipatcher ordered her to get her gun and go back up the Officer as he was surrounded by a large group of potential criminals. She got to the officers side and brandished the firearm and said",All of you away from the Police car" she was not harmed and more cops arrived. The next day a Rockford Police Lieutenant went to my buddies' place of employment and thanked him for his fiances willingness to potentially saving that officers life.

  • Myavatar_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Good read.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I have heard about Lotts book but havent read it, this article is compelling in regards to ccr laws, there have been several times I wanted the availability to carry something yet the laws forbade it, so I havent.
    I am in favor of the N.R.A. but its not easy to change the political climate

  • Ship_patch_max50


    over 4 years ago


    There are way too many scumbags out there these days to be unprotected and at THEIR mercy !!
    **I strongly believe that a armed citizen, respectful of the responsibilities that come with having
    a CCW is a excellent defense against violent criminals.

  • Dscn0041_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I have never had a problem with law abiding CCW. I have never had a bad encounter with a CCW holder, they have all been polite, reserved people. The anti-gunners portray CCW holders as Rambo type ready to shoot at anything that moves. No, even after citing them I usually get a "thank you for doing your job" from them. They all state that they are carrying, as is required by my state law and I appreciate knowing that there are people who will stand up for themselves and their families instead of just relying on us and complaining that we took too long to get there. They got a good start, lets just hope that Illinois and Wisconsin wake up and let their own people at least have a fighting chance against the scumbags.

  • Derrick_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Hopefully the next Mayor will see fit to let law abiding citizens carry a firearm with restrictions. The ploice can not be everywhere and they can not stop crime from happening. I believe if law abiding citizens in Chicago were able to carry crime would go down in this city. The second amendment was written for a good reason to give law abiding citizens a way to protect themselves. The politicians in the state of Illinios do not care about the citizens of the state as long as they are protected they could care less about us.

  • Pgr_patch_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I totally agree with all of this and what others have posted ... fantastic !! A bunch of the media should run this as well.

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Yes, I also carry a CWP from Fl.......When I travel north, I stop at my Brothers in VA and secure my arms to keep from gettin in trouble. Everywhere else, I will hand my CWP on top of my license when needed.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    This is the second of Sgt Smith's articles I have read and I do like her ideas! Excellent article, once again!

    Bluehog, you are correct about HR-218 needing tweaking. I hold a SC CWP and also HR-218 (retired officer) credentials. When the law was passed, at long last, you had the likes of Ted Kennedy trying to gut it and make it as useless as possible. They need to do away with the requirement to obey the Rob Me (no concealable weapons) signs and the prohibition on carry in government buildings. We put a minimum of 15 years in on the job and we should be given more credit than that. Again, this is something we can thank Ted K and friends for. Also, how about an every other year exemption on annual qualification if you shoot above a certain score?

    It goes without saying that your changes need to be addressed, also. Quite a few police officers move to other states for a variety of reasons after retiring. It is not right that you should have to give up the carry privs you earned under HR-218 because you decided to move.

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max50_max50_max50_max50_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Well written article. I do not fear the lawfull armed citizen.

  • Motorola-logo_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I am a firm believer of CCW permit for civilians. I carry my weapon with me always and I hope that I never have to use it. I practice monthly at the range and am proud that I live in a state (Ohio) which allows you to do so. I travel thru some bad areas for my work and it is a comfort if my life or someone elses would come to bodily harm that I am responsible enough to handle the situation should it arise. My brother was an officer for 42 years before his death (non job related) that he was like a mentor to me and taught me the right way to handle a weapon and how to handle a myself if confronted.

  • Scan_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Good article; however, I have a problem with HR218 in that it needs "tweaking". In my situation, I retired after 30 years and moved from the State of High Taxes and High Insurance (NJ) to Florida. HR 218 requires that I must qualify under the rules of state where I served; however, New Jersey requires I have an established address there in order to obtain the permit and qualify. There were rumblings about a year ago that HR 218 would be modified to allow retired LEO's to qualify under the rules of the state where they currently reside, but I've heard nothing more about it. I've obtained a Florida CCW permit which is honored in about 30 states; however I can't travel home to NJ without passing through states that don't recognize it and when I get there I STILL can't carry because NJ is one that doesn't!

  • Sam_s_grad_001_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    those that are opposed to citizens carrying guns here in TN, are unaware of the training and the oath that we have taken in order to obtain our carry permit. being responsible for our actions is priority. why would i jeopardize losing my privilege? when i go out to a bar with friends, i leave my guns at home. i obey the local ordinances and look for signs on the front of establishments that barr guns.
    thank you for a great article !!!!!

  • Me_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    As a former sheriff's deputy and now private investigator, I have always advocated the right of a civilian to carry a concealed weapon. In MOST cases, when I came upon a legally armed citizen, he informed me that he was armed and had a CCW. Therefore, I typically assumed if you didn't TELL me you were armed and I found a gun on you, chances are it was illegal and I was right the majority of the time. However, one of the important statements made in this article and one I am currently working with the PA legislature on is the TRAINING needed to carry concealed. PA currently has no training requirements and THAT is scarey for any officer. Also an armed security officer in PA doesn't have to qualify for 5 years and doesn't have to qualify with the weapon he carries on duty. Talk about antiquated laws but hopefully that will all change soon.

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* 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.

Recent Activity

36TR posted in: "Transfer of probation", 7 minutes ago.
dolphinblue gave a thumbs up to The Topic "How true this is", 41 minutes ago.
bill9823 gave a thumbs up to The Post "Poll: Well, So What We Gonna Do NOW???", 44 minutes ago.
JorgeGAI posted: "Transfer of probation", about 1 hour ago.