As cities around the country experiment with gun-buybacks to get weapons off the street, one man has started a group to do just the opposite. It's called the "Armed Citizen Project," and it aims to provide guns to poor Americans in high crime neighborhoods.
"As criminals have more reason to fear the citizenry, crime begins to drop as a result," Kyle Coplen, the founder, told FoxNews.com.
This week, the group gave out its first weapons.
"We just trained and armed a class of 10 women. They are now empowered with the knowledge and tools to put holes in those that would do them harm," Coplen said.
To test his theory that guns will make people safer, Coplen also plans to arm an entire neighborhood in Houston that currently has a lot of crime, and use that as a case study to find out what happens to the crime rate after residents have been armed and trained.
Some Houston residents are interested.
“I would definitely take advantage of the offer if they operate in my neighborhood as I think it would be extremely beneficial, not only to me, but also to others in my neighborhood,” Nancy Adossi, a 23 year-old graduate student, told Foxnews.com.
Adossi says that her neighborhood, Greenpoint, has earned the nickname “Guns-point” from local residents.
“Oftentimes, one can hear gun shots at night... Due to my commute by bus every day, I often get home around 11pm to sometimes 12am... I have often felt very vulnerable.”
On one occasion, she says, a car followed her to her place, only turning around because police cars were near the area.
Houston, a city of more than 2 million people, had more than 20,000 incidents of violent crime reported to authorities in 2011, including 198 murders and 771 rapes.
The Armed Citizen Project’s first training session was led by a law enforcement official. The training focused on how to use and maintain a firearm, but also extended to legal topics.
“My experience with the armed citizen project was a great one,” Amey Tinsley, a participant in the training program, told Foxnews.com. “Now that I've participated I feel well prepared in the event I ever need to protect myself.”
At the end of the training session, each participant received a shotgun. Coplen chose to give out shotguns because they are cheap, “a great home defense weapon,” the shot is less likely to go through walls, and the weapons are of less value to criminals than handguns.
Tinsley, who had never owned a gun before, says she’s happy to have one because of recent burglaries at her apartment complex. And she thinks the Armed Citizen Project could reduce crime.
But others say the project could have tragic consequences.
“Handing out guns in a high-crime neighborhood is like distributing cigarettes in a community with a high incidence of respiratory disease,” said Ladd Everitt, the Director of Communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“Studies have repeatedly shown that guns in the home are exponentially more likely to be used to kill or harm their owners--and their owners' loved ones--than any potential home invader.”
A 2011 report by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, also argued that “for most contemporary Americans, scientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit.”
However, others dispute that. And guns are used in self-defense between 100,000 and 2 million times each year, while there were just over 600 accidental gun deaths in 2010 (the most recent year for which data exists) according to the CDC.
Tinsley said she thinks the project will have a positive impact.
“I believe this project will in fact work. If someone has burglary in mind and knows for a fact that owners are armed in a specific neighborhood, I don't believe that person would still force entry in someone else's home,” she said.
Coplen is currently raising money on his site, www.armedcitizenproject.org, to fund more guns and training. If his project continues to get support, Coplen plans to expand the program beyond Houston.
“We intend for this project to become national, and we will be arming communities all across the country. My goal, for the first year, is to train and arm 1,000 households,” he said.
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