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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!

  • Geiger_max50


    over 4 years ago


    When I pull over someone and I hear the dispatcher say "Information the RO has a conceal carry permit" I actually feel a little better. In Ohio I know what a citizen have to go through to get a CCW permit. Major background check and if they have any violent convictions or drug charges they will be denied the permit… Now if there was just a way to be sure that the RO is the one driving lol… Always keep your guard up. Even the citizen that’s never done anything wrong can SNAP with the stresses of life.

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    over 4 years ago


    A terrific article, and I believe the key phrase here that Sgt. Smith mentioned is "well-trained, well-armed". Kudos to Sgt. Smith for a well thought out story !!!

  • Picture_021_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article, great information, great all-around read. I'm glad I live in Louisiana, where it's not super hard to get a CCP and I'm allowed to keep a loaded gun in my car (unlike some states).

  • Wcsa_range_deane_p7240007_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article. I wonder when/if Illinois will no longer be the ONLY state with no provision for armed protection outside the home. Ridiculous.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Great article! Its frustrating to see such draconian laws in California and other gun un-friendly States. The criminals are where 99.9% of the gun violence statistics arise from. Consider CCW states, are there people shooting each other over arguments? NO! on the contrary the crime rate has dropped. The anti-gun nuts are making it seem like it's the wild west if citizens, who can legally own a gun are permitted to carry. I can attest that most 2nd amendment advocates, respect the Police and would definitely assist an officer in a life or death situation if needed. The law that recently passed in California banning open carry, was a defeat not only to the people of the State, but to the Constitution which many have taken an oath to uphold ( Police, Military). After all isn't America about our freedom, and rights? Especially to those that have earned it....

  • 082310163642_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Excellent information

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    A long time ago in 1966, 1st part of August, the nut ball climbed the tower on the UT campus. I forget how many he killed, somewhere around 15 or so. Wounded about 30 or so. Anyway, the old news clips and footage shows every ordinary man running onto the campus, side by side with the Austin PD Officers and DPS Troopers, firing their deer rifles back at the gunman. The citizens were the only ones at the time who had rifles. Police later gave credit to the citizens who responded and fired the rounds at the nutball and kept him somewhat pinned behind the ledge. 2 Austin PD officers, 1 DPS Intelligence Officer, and an armed citizen stormed the tower and ultimately shot and killed the idiot. I know it was a long time ago, but yes, I'm all for armed citizens!!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I agree 100% If a citizen is willing to get some decent training, they are worth more than 100 unarmed citizens. I dont remember where I got the quote, but I have always lived by "bad things happen to good people in good places."

  • Txbadge_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Ironically enough, it's Chicago Police that I've heard several officers speaking of as not honoring HR 218 and telling out-of-state commissioned full time professional law enforcement authorized by FEDERAL LAW to carry concealed that they better not do it in Chicago because they, the Chicago PD, will arrest them for UCW, confiscate their department issued duty weapon, and take them to jail. Any CPD out there willing to comment on this? It's come up too often to be just an every-so-often occurrance, and I'm curious as to whether this is policy or just Chicago politics--or just a few officers who haven't heard of the Constitution, the supremacy clause or the 2nd amendment.

  • Sheriff_3_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Excellent article!

  • La_riot_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I agree with this article. Have spent 38 years in law enforcement and know that I can't be everywhere and citizens need to have the tools to protect themselves and others if necessary. Having lived in Az. for the last 10 years virtually every legal citizen can carry concealed. Our violent crime rate, with firearms, is quite low in comparison to restrictive states like California, where I spent most of my career.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    This is an outstanding article. I am a Parole Officer in Texas and also carry concealed. I believe that RESPONSIBLE people who are licensed and CARRY THEIR WEAPON give an edge to those who rely on others to protect them. I am also former military and have been in countries where the citizens are not allowed to protect themselves. I'm glad to see that others think like I do. Thank you.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Good article

  • Mvc-041f_max50


    over 4 years ago


    The article and the comments here were very refreshing to me! I am an ex Deputy Sheriff out of the field since 1983, but I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment. I have a CCW "permit" in my state and a non-resident "permit" in a neighboring state. I am rmed all the time except, ironically, when I am at work, protecting a high-risk Homeland Security asset! They allow no guns on the property.

    Thank you for a well thought out article on an obviously long pondered personal position. By the way, as a Deputy, I personally was relieved when a citizen was armed and wanted to do whatever I asked to help. Backup in my county might be 20-30 minutes away.

  • Clar_20in_20deputy_20uniform_max50


    over 4 years ago



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