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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


    almost 5 years ago


    Officer Gino, I don't have a Bill of Needs, I have a Bill of Rights, just like every other American citizen. What good would one gun sitting in an upstairs bedroom do for me if an intruder broke in while I was in the downstairs bathroom? If i feel the need to place a gun in every room of my house for quick access in a life threatening emergency who are you to tell me I only "need" one gun in my house? An armed citizen is a safe citizen. There just aren't enough cops on the streets to be able to defend every single law abiding citizen against a felonious attack at the exact moment it happens. Every person on Earth has a born right to defend themselves against any attack that threatens their life. Every single American citizen that can LEGALLYcarry a firearm should.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Officer_Gino12912, according to "Crime Summary", which is produced by the Research and Development Division of the Chicago Police Department, there have been 14,585 violent crimes in Chicago from Jan-Jun 2010. 14,585! 61.2% were gang related. Let’s unrealistically just assume that all gang related crimes were against other violent gang members and thus, don’t count…that leaves 5,658 “innocent victims” of violent crime in 6 months. How many of these occurred outside the home? Where were the cops to prevent those 5,658 violent crimes against civilians? My guess is that there AREN'T enough cops to suppress that kind of crime...there never will be. How many plain clothes cops have been killed by armed home owners while responding to a home invasion? How many law abiding citizens “hand off” their guns to bad guys? How many DON’T. How many times has a civilian thought he was Batman and got in the cops’ way? Do you know? I don’t. Probably a heck of a lot less than 5,658.
    Here’re some more questions for you.
    How long on average does it take the police to respond to a 911 call? How long does it take for a violent criminal to stab, rape, beat or kill an UNARMED civilian? What’s more likely to save a citizen from a violent crime, trained and proficient use of a firearm or a cell phone?
    By the way, who are you to tell a law-abiding citizen how many firearms he/she may own? Who are you to tell me I don’t have a right to protect myself. Criminals don’t need firearms to commit violent crimes. I’m a pretty strong guy and I’d have a helluva time defending myself with my bare hands against an attacker with a metal pipe or knife…or multiple adversaries.
    I agree that the violent criminals need to suffer more severe punishment. I agree that if someone is to carry/use a firearm, they should be trained and proficient. I feel that gun owners are responsible for securing their firearms when not in use.
    As you might’ve guessed, I’m not a cop, but I guarantee I’ve had more metal projectiles directed at me than most.
    Lastly, ask any hardened criminal what he fears more, a cop or an armed citizen. I’ll let you guess what the answer is.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    i believe this hits the nail on the head

  • 024_22a_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Thank you for this article! You are absolutely correct! I have been an armed security officer for the last 20 years. I work in some of the worst neighborhoods in the entire country. While able to carry a gun on-duty, I am not allowed to carry a weapon off-duty, due to my residing in the Great State of California! It is impossible to get a CCW in this state, regardless of my level of training and experience! No matter that I am a tactical officer, even having been cleared through DOJ to be permitted to carry fully-automatic weapons (on-duty), I will likely never be cleared to carry a concealed weapon in this state, regardless of the possibility of running into the same gang-bangers and drug dealers that I deal with every day at work! The liberal mind-set MUST change! Guns are not the criminals, nor are they the reason for crime! I am a FIRM believer in gun-control. Not everyone should be allowed to carry a weapon, but those that take the time to train properly and are intelligent enough to understand that they have a greater resposibility when they leave their homes armed, should be allowed to!
    In this time of laid-off police officers and disbanding departments, it IS up to the people to help ensure the freedom of lawlessness that we are inches away from!!!!

  • Beckert2_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    The person most able to protect a citizen in danger is that citizen him/herself. By the time we get there, the damage has almost always already been done. With proper screening and proper training, absolutely citizens should be allowed to carry concealed, and not just inside their house.

  • Txbadge_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I asked earlier if CPD's systematic ignorance of HR218 was a matter of policy or politics...officer_gino's post would tend to indicate it is both. It's sad that some parts of America are distinctly less free and more dangerous than others--and those tasked with policing them don't see the correlation between those two facts.

  • Guard_dog_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Akangel - That's the best CCW process I've seen yet. I'm all for honest citizens being allowed to arm themselves WITH PROPER TRAINING. Here in Washington State all you have to do is pass a criminal background check & pay your $60. I'd like to see a nationally standardized process similar to AK's process that would allow people to carry their gun across state lines. Criminals are going to get their guns no matter what. Anyone have any stats on how many crimes are committed by legally licensed gun owners compared to criminals with illegally possessed & carried guns?

  • Hawaii_pics_164_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    There are always going to be idiots in the mix. You've got idiots with a drivers license, idiots slipping through the cracks and wearing a badge also. As far as thugs getting access to weapons at a mall just north of here an officers vehicle was broken in to and his weapon and badge taken. I haven't always been a peace officer but I've owned weapons my whole life. If I gave up my badge I wouldn't give up my weapon just because there are idiots in the world. Commiting a crime with a gun should be a life sentance no if, ands or buts and no parole. I've got a pile of guns kinda like my tool collection they're not all the same. I've got four decades of training in a few martial arts and proficient with several types of weapons. Some may think that is unnecessary but last time I checked this was America.

  • 4-22-10_download_020_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    AKangel, In Pa. You fill out a questionair, a backround check is done to verify you're not a convicted felon and were never committed to a mental institution. Basicaly that's it. And some shops is a 3 day waiting period befor the transfer is done and take possession of the firearm.

  • Pic-0246_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    i work in chicago and i'm all for WELL TRAINED LAW ABIDING CITIZENS CARRYING WEAPONS IN THEIR HOUSE. chicago is still trying to work out the final kinks of this law but as it looks now you obviously cannot be a convicted felon or convicted of domestic violence (Lautenberg Amendment 1968). and you cannot carry the firearm outside even in your backyard. now there will always be pros and cons to this but what if a citizen passes any required courses and pays all fees purchases a gun then hands it off to their gang banger or drug dealer family member/friend? you then still have a bad guy with a gun. or if it's a home invasion or buglary then some plain clothes officers show up and one of them gets shot because of mistaken identity. i honestly see more bad things to come of this than good things. if this idiots that get caught with guns would actually do some time in prison then getting probabtion im sure crime here would be down just as much. a felon convicted of UUW who was given probation was the reason Chicago Police Officer Alex Valadez was shot and killed in the line of duty. cuz the asshole never served any jail time. there are going to be over zealous citizens with guns who will want to be the police and im almost sure get in the way of some police work/investigations because they have a gun and think they have the right to do police work. and who the hell needs to buy one gun a month? noone needs to have more than one gun in the house. period. and it will come as no shock when a gun comes up mysteriously missing from a home then a gang banger gets caught with it later on. lets keep an eye on this one for now...

  • Nys_omh_police_max160_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Great article Betsy!!!! In NYC it is not easy to get a CCW. And honestly I like it like that, what with all the crazy people we have running around.

  • Snapshot_20100823_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    In Michigan you are allowed to carry and conceal a handgun. I think carry and conceal is perhaps one of the most important and one of the best ways to keep yourself self out there on the streets. The problem with the gun laws is that they don't take into account that if some one really wanted a gun all they would have to do is find some one selling them illegally on the streets. Guns are trafficked just as much as drugs are. The gun laws actually help violence go up because the suspects ( or criminals if you will ) know that the people they are going to target are not packing a firearm of any kind. You want crime to go down? Get rid of these silly gun laws the prohibits or tries to prohibit the average citizen from carrying a concealed firearm.

  • Wind_therapy-_angel_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Turbo2183, I'm not sure about other states, But In Alaska to get a CCW License it is two days of classroom training paid by you up front, Gun safety, Gun Laws, CCW responsibility, Home protection, training scenarios with a former police officer, final exam, then day three if you passed your final exam, to the range to qualify, You buy your ammo for qualifications. If you qualify you then take your signed form to the department of safety and pay for your background. Once it has passed you receive a letter to pick up your CCW at the department of safety about a month later, Total cost $250.00 where I was licensed.
    It is a process they don't just give them out.

  • 4-22-10_download_020_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I'm an LEO in Philadelphia Pa. I deal with a lot firearms. Not just criminals and gang members but also citizens who carry concealed. My opinion is in addition to the standard backround check to apply for your license to carry concealed. The citizen should also be required to take a supervised safety and live fire instruction. This would educate the untrained citizen and maybe make them more responsible with handling the firearm and decision making in a situation that they may need to use it in. Not everyone may be able to pull the trigger ( the situation might not call for it either ) and could put themselves in an unessessary position to be harmed or loose control of the firearm and arm that offender with more ammunition. It makes the job that much more difficult.

  • Dallaspolice_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    It may be because I live in Tx but I do not support open carry laws but do believe in the rights of GOOD citizens to conceal carry. I may get flamed for this but I just dont think that Joe Citizen has enough weapons training to know how to defend his weapon during a confrontation. (Weapon retention) It also provides the bad guy with more intel than necessary, like whos armed and who is not. My opinion may change if an open carry user was required to have a SS2 lvl or higher holster.

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