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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!


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    Skip_Cross

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    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

    gunner15

    about 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    OUTSTANDING ARTICLE!!!

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    marine88

    about 4 years ago

    26 Comments

    Couldn't have been better said, with years of debaiting this issue in my own head I agree with all that you have wrote, I'm a former Marine my criminal record is cleaner than most officers my driveing record is clean I'm just a good citizen all round I have a concealed weapons permit I don't carry a fire arm every were I go but certain places I do all in self defence for my self and others. Weather the brady bunch gets there way or not I'm keeping my guns I earned them and deserve to live as much as the bad guys. I am asking anyone that is not already a menber of National association for gun rights or NAGR gun rights to please join you can count on the Brady campaign to come down hard after eletion day of our second amendment first to take your voice away and then your guns, LETS STOP THEM.

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    PRBlueBear

    about 4 years ago

    20 Comments

    WOW! I wish we all had a world were we can live SAFE. I am a retired Navy Senior Chief who worked mostly on the LEO field. Now nearing 65, I am an Auxiliary in the PR State Police nearing 11 years on the beat. I've been legally carrying a S&W 9mm for 40+ years and only had to draw my weapon once (lucky me). My Motto has always been "Better to carry it with me and Not using it, than needing it and Not having it". The BIG problem I have with citizens carrying, or even me in plain clothes is that in a decision making cituation you don't know who is who and may cause confusion. I travel alot and HR-218 is unclear to us since we don't get paid to do the same kind of work our pardner who does get paid.

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    hmacy

    about 4 years ago

    34 Comments

    I believe every citizen who has not committed a felony and wants to own and bear a weapon should be allowed to do so. It has been proven many times over that states with a right carry law have less crime than those that don't. I can't understand how the Democrat Party and the Brady campaign do not understand this. I completed a college paper on Gun Control and found through research that most countries that signed on to the United Nations Small arms treaty are now under a dictatorship. Go figure.

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    brick79855

    about 4 years ago

    220 Comments

    After thinking about the article, I want to ask, why do Officers put up with the legal crap of this age, and were do Commanders of Police forces get of taking orders from lawyers, is it not soppose to be the other way around, who runs the show these days, the people who ask for protecton or the politicians who never know which platform to stand on!

  • Usaeagle_max50

    djbiker

    about 4 years ago

    20 Comments

    Sgt Betsy, I meant to thank you for your well written article. Thank you for taking a stand to defend those of us that would proudly defend you if we found ourselves in such a position. I am not, a LEO, but thank each and every one of you for the thankless job you do every day. You are very much appreciated by those of us in the not so silent anymore majority.

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    brick79855

    about 4 years ago

    220 Comments

    I would like to also add this why then do Good, Officers like yourself get in harms way to protect some lousy suit type with political clout, Why is America becomeing everything opposite of what our Grandfathers in WWII fought and died for, and our dear Soliders today now do the same, yeah there will always be a coward here and there, they are the kind even "God" hmself would'nt allow to fight because in the heat of battle they will get good soliders killed, or in the case of legal mumbo jumbo which too many of you youngsters get caught up in it may be a honest hard working "Civilian" who has your back out there someday, will you ask them if they have a license to carry! "When I die, lay my Army 45 Cal and my bible in my box" by the way look at what a failure Chicago has become, when I was a youngman, the Officers were respected and feared to some degree, took no crap, but let me say this, may have been some bad one's but I bet more Good and honest who never feared a Cilivian having a weapon of protection!

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    brick79855

    about 4 years ago

    220 Comments

    I agree with DJ, has an American Vet any of us shouyld be able to bear arms and use them in defense of self or others I certainly don't want to wit for a slow ass squad unit prob with some second guess type like yourself, see I have no problem in taking a life that's what I was and am proud to say learned from the best Uncle Sam! So youngun get your head outta book's and get back in the real world, cause if you're a punk that would let some criminal pop a cap in your butt I hope I am not around!

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    copper5817

    about 4 years ago

    892 Comments

    Good article. Still, it's a bit scary as a patrol cop. Arizona has now made it legal for anyone over 21 to carry concealed, unless, of course, they are prohibited possessers, etc...so this is new to even us. I guess we'll see how it pans out!

  • Usaeagle_max50

    djbiker

    about 4 years ago

    20 Comments

    Dear Outhea,

    Apparently you are not well versed in the Supreme Court Ruling that states that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right and DOES NOT apply to the American Citizenry as a militia! The 2nd Amendment was clearly stated as an individual right of the individual citized to keep and bear arms, and in particular a handgun as this is the normal standard for defense in our times. You believe in strict gun laws and controls? For whom? The law abiding citizen that will jump through all the government hoops so that we can legally protect ourselves? Only the law abiding citizen gives a hoot about the law and seeing to it that we do abide by the letter of the law. The thug that is riding around with his pistol in his pants gangster style and shooting out of the car window at kids on the street certainly did not purchase his handgun legally and deal with all the red tape and licensing, background checks, etc that the rest of us have to endure.

    As a permit holder, I have been investigated by the FBI, the TBI, and the local sheriff department. I have been found to be a law abiding, decent citizen and have been granted the ability to carry a handgun for my defense and the defense of others that are in fear of losing their life or great bodily harm. I pay the fees, and endure the waiting months to receive the permit when they get around to issuing it. Do you think the rapists and others are waiting? You state that you don't believe that anyone has a Constitutional right? Have you read the Constitution? The 2nd Amendment? What about the 1st? If we applied your same theology to the 1st Amendment as you do the 2nd, then we can say that only organized speeches are allowed, and not the ordinary citizen would be allowed to speak their mind? Isn't this a fair analogy?

  • Don_27t_20tred_20on_20me_max50

    Riot

    about 4 years ago

    516 Comments

    Great article....without the 2nd Amendment we couldn't enjoy our other freedoms (like the 1st Amendment).

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    DStike

    about 4 years ago

    430 Comments

    nice article, i cited Lott's work during many debates and even did my senior project in high school with his work backing my claims!

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    sergiorestrepo

    about 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    Great article!

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    outohea

    about 4 years ago

    14 Comments

    As much as I enjoy firearms, I wish the damned things were never invented. I hate what they are primarily used for. Which is to kill one another. Of course in a Utopia there would not exist any guns. But, as far as our society goes, we are a gun nation. No other western civilization has the number of guns in the country than we do. I think resonsible private citizens should be allowed to purchase and license to carry firearms. I think the small number of legally purchased firearms that end up being used in mass murders and attacks like what happened at Fort Hood recently, where I was stationed, is the norm. I think media sensationalism of these attacks make it sound as if these sort of attacks are common but let's face it is extremely rare. But, I definitely believe in strict gun laws and controls. Also, I do not believe anyone has a constitutional right. I don't believe the founders meant for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to own an Uzi. What I do believe is that it was meant for a militia. Which, is why the Supreme Court has upheld this opinion when challenges to gun control laws have come up. This is not to say that I think citizens shouldn't be able to own them. I obviously just stated so and I own several myself. I simply believe it is a misinterpretation and usually people only know the first line of it anyways. Oh well, my two cents worth.

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