Kyle Coplen can pinpoint the exact moment the idea came to him. He was visiting a 93-year-old World War II veteran on January 23 whose home had just been vandalized. Mementos were broken. The walls had been covered with spray paint. The man was distraught, and so was Coplen, who wondered whether the damage could have been avoided if the veteran had access to a gun.
He decided that it could, which led to his next thought: What if whole blocks were armed? Entire neighborhoods, even? A heavily armed populace might be able to stem the tide of burglaries, robberies, and home invasions common in areas of chronically high crime.
"If the criminal thinks there's even a 10 percent chance that they're going to take a bunch of buckshot to the gut," Coplen says, they'll probably go somewhere else.
He decided to test his theory, establishing the Armed Citizen Project, a nonprofit that, true to its name, gives people shotguns and teaches them how to shoot.
The program is in the process of launching in Houston, where Coplen has pinpointed areas of particularly high crime with a stable population of homeowners, whom the project will seek out and, provided they pass a background check, are willing to undergo training, and can prove they've lived in their home for at least a year, they get a gun. The same offer is available to single women.
ACP's tagline: "Deterring crime by empowering neighborhoods."
Already, though the group has only just armed its first group of single women in Houston (it plans to have 50 to 100 homeowners armed by the end of the month), the program is expanding. Coplen hopes to have 15 cities signed up by the end of the year. Dallas is No. 3 on the list, right after Tucson. Coplen's eying a few possible neighborhoods but declined to specify where.
As the Associated Press reported in its piece on ACP's efforts in Arizona, the research on the benefits of defensive gun ownership is inconclusive.
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"People don't want to confront an armed person at home," Garen J. Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, told the AP. "But, separately, there is solid evidence that in communities with higher rates of gun ownership, burglary rates are up, not down, and that's because guns are hot loot."
Coplen hopes to prove the opposite. The 29-year-old is a graduate student at the University of Houston pursuing a masters in public administration. He plans to do a full analysis of crime stats in neighborhoods a year after the program's launch.
So far, Coplen says the response to the program has been "overwhelmingly positive," though he qualifies this by noting that the group hasn't yet started arming any homeowners. He also insists that his effort is very little about trolling liberals, though the ACP website belies this claim.
We are an organization that is not simply content to hold the line on guns. If the fight does not come to us, we will go to it. We are ... training and arming single women in high crime areas, competing against gun buybacks, calling out anti-gun politicians as being pro-crime, and fighting the anti-gun establishment in general. We are pissing off all of the right (left) people, having a blast doing it.