The gun control debate wages on with both sides standing firmly in their convictions, and still no can agree on what exactly will deter crime; gun enthusiasts are sure that an increase in gun ownership is the answer to safer streets, while gun-control advocates remain steadfast that the opposite is true.
But a controversial organization in Houston claims it’s about to settle the argument; the Armed Citizen Project is supplying firearms to residents in a high-crime Houston neighborhood in order to determine a causal link between more private gun ownership and lower crime rates.
The group’s founder, Kyle Coplen, tells TakePart, “It’s our hypothesis that criminals do not want to die in your hallway. We think society should use that fear to deter crime.”
In addition to providing a free pump-action shotgun to a large portion of the neighborhood, ACP will also provide signage to alert would-be criminals that homeowners in that vicinity are armed.
By the end of this year, the ACP plans to expand its study to 15 different cities nationwide, targeting neighborhoods that have medium-to-high crime rates.
Coplen is a recent grad from the University of Houston Master’s program. The impetus to start ACP came when volunteered to help clean up the home of a WWII veteran whose house had been broken into and vandalized.
“It made me start thinking about what we could do to prevent home invasions. And it’s tied to my belief that citizens should arm themselves in the face of a threat,” Coplen says.
Houston’s Oak Forest neighborhood is the first that ACP has armed, chosen because it’s been the target of a rash of home burglaries this year. The organization plans to move on to several neighborhoods in Tucson—the same city where in 2011, a mentally ill gunman opened fire into a crowd, killing six people and shooting former Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head.
Steve Kozachik, who is the City Council representative for one of the Tucson neighborhoods ACP will arm, finds the plan outrageous. “For someone to say it makes sense to be giving away loaded shotguns in high-crime areas is absolute lunacy,” Kozachik told the Tucson Weekly. “These people have lost their minds.”
But Coplen claims that those who fear the program are operating on some simple misconceptions.
“People like to think that we’re throwing a truckload of shotguns into a neighborhood and driving away,” he says. “We are training folks, we are doing background checks and arming folks with a defensive shotgun.”
Coplen says that ACP requires residents follow a strict protocol. In addition to submitting to a background check, participants must also complete training in safety, tactical and legal issues.
Controversial gun programs aimed at either helping or hindering gun ownership are nothing new. And some are more bizarre than others. The state of Arizona recently passed a law requiring that all the guns collected in buy-back programs—which are meant to take guns off the streets—be made available to gun dealers in order to sell them back to the public.
Other programs are more straightforward, offering cash and sometimes gifts in exchange for firearms that are handed in to local police stations, after which they’re usually destroyed.
So does that make ACP the best of both worlds? One that supports the 2nd Amendment, but also promotes the kinds of regulations that would make gun control advocates happy? Or is this the worst idea ever, rife with the possibility of accidental shootings and thefts?
New York’s Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly believes it’s the latter. When Coplen announced his intent to distribute firearms in New York City, Kelly was quick to veto the idea.
He told the NY Daily News, “You need a permit...so obviously you won’t be able to do it here,” he said. “I don’t think that's ever (been) proven, the notion that increasing the number of armed citizens is somehow going to reduce crime. I don’t think that bears the test of experience or logic because it just hasn’t proven to be the case.”
Indeed, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “...guns can and have been used successfully in self-defense in the home, [but] a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.”
Whether or not it works remains to be seen. Coplen reports that his organization will conduct a two-year study once the plan has been rolled out nationwide.
Would you participate in ACP’s program? Let us know what you think about arming neighborhoods to deter crime in the Comments.