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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!

  • Snoopy-cool_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I'm not a LEO but I am applying to the PD after the 1st of the year when they start hiring. I am waiting to receive my concealed permit in the mail. It should be here soon. I am a female living in a dangerous city alone and I have to be outside downtown late at night for my current job. People here are also shooting each other and car jacking, etc during daylight hours and it's out of control. I took a class taught by an NRA instructor who was a former police officer. The class was very helpful. I do have a membership at the shooting range and go as often as possible. It is something I really enjoy and I feel very comfortable with my firearm. I have a glock 27. I realize that carrying a firearm is a very big responsibility and must not be taken lightly. I enjoyed the article by Sgt Betsy. As a female I enjoy hearing from other woman who have had long and fullfilling law enforcement careers. Thanks for the article. I am also an NRA member.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    BRAVO! Freedom is freedom. The constitution and Bill of Rights specifically enumerated certain rights, and protected them with very simple, unmistakable language. The 2nd amendment was never intended to be infringed in any way, nor "interpreted" by activist judges. The Constitution was written so the common man could understand it, by design. This was done to protect against the soft tyranny of an overbearing government. Our right and responsibility to protect ourselves and our Republic is essential, and should not have any long list of overbearing requirements in the way, IMHO.

  • Derrick_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    This article is right on the money, there are law abiding citizens here in chicago that are train in the use of firearms and can use them in the rightful manner. The city government in chicago do not care about their citizens because most of the gun violence is center around the black areas of the city. As long as they know that they really do not care. To get these areas under control the citizens that live there are the ones who will be able to reduce the gun violence but with out the law on their side and not being able to carry a conceal weapon( gun) on them that's why it's only going to get worse.

  • Boldbadgemourn2_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Did anyone notice the Picture of the gun in this Article. It looks like it is on a lanyard attatched to his belt. Anyone seen this before?

  • Challenger_cop_car_max600_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    AMAZING article, exactly what everyone needs to hear! "All the gun laws in the world aren’t going to keep thugs from owning, carrying and using firearms." - That is exactly right!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    I agree great article . But when will there be a HR 218 for the private citizen.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    I love this article and in full agreement with you. I am a armed citizen in Detroit with law enforcement training who carries 24/7 for my personal protection as well as protection of others. It's a big respondablity,but I feel that for only a chosen few to be legal carriers. It takes the right mind set to engage in lawful responding to crime.

  • R2_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I am the Assistant Chief of Police in a smaller community in western Montana. We in Montana are very pro gun. They estimate that 90% of the homes and as many as 50% of the vehicles from Montana have a gun in them. People carry firearms openly on their side here.
    Our officers encounter firearms daily on their stops and contacts, but rarely is that in a confrontational way. Armed, well trained citizens are one of the reasons why Montana is one of the safest places in the country. It is why we can still let our kids play freely without worrying, why many still leave their vehicles and homes unlocked.
    Finally it is one of the reasons I live here. I carry a firearm with me everywhere I go and I am proud of it and my State.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    What amazes me is the number of states where LEGAL citizens, law abiding citizens can't carry a weapon legally.

    I am all for proper training and continued education with firearms, you can never be too proficient, but some states don't allow carry, open or concealed, no matter what the circumstance, no matter how well the person carrying is trained, regardless of their experience, NO, you will NOT carry.

    Seems like the *bad guys* didn't get THAT message... Great article, I wish ALL states would wake up and come to their senses regarding concealed carry.

  • Bear2_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I'm a citizen who carries a hand gun but I keep it in the open, I haven't got my conceled weapons permitt yet, I'm out and about mainly at night so it's fer my protection. just cause I carry a weapon I don't ever plan on getting in the way of officers doing their job, the clip is loaded but never the chamber, I only carry it at night or when I leave town. I've had enough problems with someone trying to break in and my neighbor was robbed, I will fight to keep my rights to bare arms. littlecolt

  • Advance_seal_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    "berta73".. Please think before you speak.

  • Cimg0717_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Bravo TaxanNV

  • Veteransadm_small_square_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Betsy, I will have to agree with you 100%. There are not enough cops out there to protect the population all the time. I am speaking about this first hand. About four months ago my aunt and uncle were murdered in a small rural town of Pennsylvania on a Saturday afternoon in the privacy of their own house. People have the right to protect themselves. Would this have changed the outcome that afternoon, I don’t know. But when you think of savage double-murder, you don’t think of small country towns with a population of less than 1000. Violent crimes are happening everyday and in every neighborhood. The general population deserves the right to protect themselves and their loved ones from these low-life thugs.

    I also carry my gun with me when I am off duty, but I see a lot of my fellow officers choose not to. That is their choice, but as LEO’s we are trained to confront incidents that you average CCW is not. Look at the Trolley Mall incident where an off-duty LEO at dinner with his wife was able to save lives by letting his training and instincts take over. He may not have ended the threat himself, but he distracted the attention of that low-life POS towards him instead of the defenseless general population in the mall that night. Could a law-abiding citizen done the same thing?

    As an LEO firearms instructor I try to train my officers for any incident that may come their way. Do I cover everything, NO (I don’t know everything). But I try to ensure that when the crap hits the fan they can remember we trained over this and I pray the training takes over and they WIN. I have just recently gotten into the realm of training responsible citizens and our brave men and women of the armed forces and I give them everything I have as well, because I know that one day they might be all the back-up I have.

    I have noticed a large number of women, men, and members of our armed forces coming to classes to learn aspects of self defense. I also attempt to give them a foundation on state CCW laws (I am not a lawyer) and encourage them to seek additional advice from our local DA’s office. The key to civilian carry is no different than that of a cop – Training and Mindset. You can’t shot the gun once and think you are an expert. You have to practice, be aware of your surroundings and have the mindset that you may have to use you weapon to save your life or that of a 3rd party. I want to encourage everyone to train as often as possible, be alert, and WIN.

  • American-flag_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Excellent article! Agree, agree, agree! My problem driver's license is valid in all states...why not my concealed carry permit?

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Push our Supv's Mayors,Gov'ner, Pres, For Tax-Write-Off for Installing 2',3'.floor Behind Mirror-Glass
    Public Safety Security Surveillance Web Cams on Homes,Schools,Storefronts,Clubs Parks,Transit Hubs
    Facing each-others front/side to Catch Robbers,Killers,Gang-Taggers in the act in film also Tracked by
    G.P.S App,Chip on I-Phones,Pads,Books,Pods,Laptops tracked back to the thug for jail time
    from Point/Sale-Ser-# g.p.s. also have City p.d.dpt's to print up Gang photo-i.d.aray for the People Publc
    Web cite and to Wall posters for Transit shelter with phone tip line ## for people can Drop Dimes on them.
    also have city p.d.dpt's Round,Roust up any Gang-Tagger Make them Repaint Walls in Public on film for
    upcoming newscast for people to see and i.d.them by photo-phone on the spot.

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