While politicians in Washington argue about limiting access to guns, whether through universal background checks or restricting the availability of assault-style weapons, one Texas group has a mission to do something quite the opposite: giving away free guns to the poor.
The Armed Citizens Project is a Houston-based nonprofit organization formed to provide free firearms and training to residents of high-crime areas and single women. The ACP was founded by Kyle Coplen, a graduate student at the University of Houston, who hopes to prove that increased gun ownership leads to lower crime rates. “As criminals have more reason to fear the citizenry, crime begins to drop as a result,” Coplen told FoxNews.com.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, famously said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. It seems that ACP’s mission is to prove this reasoning. “The definition of success is to empower citizens and decrease crime,” Coplen told CNN. “We want to give folks the tools to defend themselves.”
The ACP has already provided such “tools” to some Houston residents. In the last week of March, the group handed out its first weapons to a group of women in the Bayou City. “We just trained and armed a class of 10 women,” Coplen told Fox News. “They are now empowered with the knowledge and tools to put holes in those that would do them harm.”
At least one of those women has professed the positive effects of the program. Houston resident Tiffany Braggs, 44, had never owned or fired a gun prior to enrolling in the ACP, wrote the Huffington Post. “I feel a little bit more secure knowing that I can defend my home and my children,” said Braggs.
All applicants to the Armed Citizens Project must pass a background check and must have lived at their current address for at least one year. Applicants must also receive safety, legal, and tactical training on the use of a firearm, according to their website. At the end of their training, led by law enforcement officials, students are provided with a free single-shot shotgun, as well as a trigger lock for safety. The weapon and training costs about $400 per person, according to the Huffington Post.
The ACP has moved to expand its operation in Dallas, and some residents there are interested though cautious, wrote CBS-DFW. “It sounds good but you have to be careful,” said Calvin Carter. Carter is a resident of Sunny Acres, a neighborhood in South Dallas that has struggled with crime—the kind of neighborhood that Coplen wants to empower. Fox News reported that Coplen plans to arm an entire unnamed Houston neighborhood as a case study on the effects of an armed population on crime.
The Armed Citizens Program also plans to expand into at least 15 cities by the end of the year, Coplen told CNN. Tucson, Arizona is one of many cities across the country where the ACP is looking to extend its program. “Tucson, Arizona has a crime problem, they’re currently short about 150 officers, so we’d like to move in and help the people there,” Coplen told CNN. Coplen said the decision to expand its operation to Tucson was completely unrelated to the mass shooting that occurred there in 2011. Other cities where the ACP plans to operate include Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and New York.
Some sources are opposed to the program, and believe there are better ways to help the needy. “We could take that $400 per shotgun and give it to these people so they could go buy groceries, pay rent, pay their utility bills, something useful,” Cindy Ayala, a neighborhood association president in Tucson told the Huffington Post.
Others oppose the program believing that the proliferation of gun will just make neighborhoods more dangerous. “I want gun control,” Dallas resident Lynne Weber told CBS-DFW. “I think doing that would not empower women but endanger them and everyone around them.”
Coplen stresses that the ACP is not a haphazard endeavor, but an effort to arm citizens who want a firearm but might otherwise be unable to afford one. “We’re not just tossing a bunch of shotguns into a community and walking away,” Coplen told Fox News Houston. “What we’re doing is finding residents who are interested in protecting themselves. We’re not forcing guns on anyone.”