The northwest Houston community of Oak Forest is the first in the country to be a part of a controversial new grassroots initiative that aims to combat crime not by removing or restricting guns, but by encouraging them.
The Armed Citizen Project — whose acronym, ACP, is also gun-owner shorthand for automatic Colt pistol — was founded by 29-year-old Kyle Coplen, a recent graduate from the University of Houston's public administration MA program who spend his final semester conducting a study with the question, “Will having more guns reduce crime rate?”
In the midst of the ongoing national debate on gun control, Coplen tells CultureMap that he is trying to show that putting more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can help reduce crime.
“We’re not just tossing a bunch of shotguns into a community and walking away."
The ACP website notes the case of Kennesaw, Ga. in the 1980s when crime virtually disappeared (dropping by 89 percent) after the town's council passed an ordinance requiring the adult head of every household to own at least one gun with ammunition. Of course, other more recent incidents are on many Americans' minds: Sandy Hook, the Santa Monica College shootings, the movie theater ambush in Colorado.
Coplen believes in creating "new responsible gun owners" though. He found his mission after being part of a volunteer committee that helped clean up a World War II veteran’s home that was broken into and vandalized.
"When I saw the look on the (the man's) face, I began to think about what could be done to prevent future home burglaries and invasions," he says. "This is what prompted me to launch ACP.”
Now, he is giving away 12-gauge, pump-action shotguns — with Oak Forest targeted as the first community. To get a free shotgun, residents must pass a background check and prove they have lived in their present home for more than a year. Residents are not given the guns right after completing training. There is a wait.
Coplen says the Armed Citizen Project is focused on protecting single women in high crime neighborhoods around Houston. The nonprofit organization is funded through private donations.
“This organization is dedicated to training homeowners so that they may feel safe in the comfort of their own homes,” Coplen says.
Harris County Precinct 1 constable Alan Rosen, whose deputies patrol Oak Forest, is all in on the plan.
"When law-abiding citizens are given these shotguns to protect their home and defend themselves and their families, I completely agree that this is OK," Rosen says. "I like that there are background checks being performed on the participants to make sure the guns are going to people who want to defend themselves and their families in the comport of their own home."
"I sleep with a gun next to my bed because I think it is the only way to get the message across.”
Oak Forest has been dealing with a string of driveway robberies — many by armed crooks. Residents have found themselves confronted by armed robbers who followed them to their homes from nearby grocery stores and pharmacies.
“We’re not just tossing a bunch of shotguns into a community and walking away," Coplen tells Fox 26. "What we’re doing is finding residents who are interested in protecting themselves.”
“I agree with what this organization is doing, Oak Forest resident Pat Stewart says. "I sleep with a gun next to my bed because I think it is the only way to get the message across.”
Stewart did not take one of the free shotguns because she already owned her own.
The type of shotgun given away was chosen because it's proven to be of low value to criminals and intruders due to its size and shot capability. On the other hand, the shotgun is regarded as an efficient tool to guard a home due to its intimidating large size.
Oak Forest residents eager for a free gun have already begun the Armed Citizen Project's required training, which goes over how to load and use a shotgun as well as when to use it. Coplen expects to train at least 50 residents from Oak Forest and plans to put up signs around the neighborhood warning that it is an armed neighborhood. He says recent rumors of shotguns no longer being distributed are false and notes that a second shipment of guns for Oak Forest is about to arrive.
The Armed Citizen Project plans to offer training — and free shotguns — in communities in the Dallas, San Antonio and Tucson, Ariz. areas in the next several weeks.