INDIANAPOLIS/HOUSTON – An Indiana native wants to arm law-abiding citizens in high crime areas throughout Indianapolis with free shotguns in an effort to help people protect their homes and families.
Kyle Coplen was born and raised in Rochester, Indiana. He studied at Ball State University and then moved to Houston, Texas, to continue his eduction. Earlier this year, he created the Armed Citizen Project (ACP), as part of a thesis project that will provide research for his theory that firearms can deter crime.
“Guns are used to stop over four million crimes a year. Ninety percent of the time that a gun is used to stop a crime, it doesn’t even need to be fired,” he tells Fox 59. “The study that’s gonna come out of this, doing this all across the country and multiple cities, we can prove hopefully what our hypothesis is and that’s that criminals have no intention of dying in your hallway.”
He’s already arming dozens of people in Texas and has plans to bring his movement to Indianapolis. But before he does, Fox 59’s Aishah Hasnie flew to Houston to get an exclusive, up-close look at his program.
Coplen first took us to a neighborhood in Houston he is arming right now. It’s a working class area that criminals seem to love.
“The area we chose has 400 houses in it. They had 107 home invasions last year. Which is close to two a week. So yeah, this neighborhood was in desperate need,” he said as he walked us around.
In fact, this is the neighborhood where it all started. He pointed out the home of Elbert Wood, a 93-year-old U.S. veteran whose home was broken into and vandalized. The story moved Coplen to do something.
He first helped with the clean-up efforts and then he decided to go a step further.
“Uh, that kinda led to the spark to come up with this,” he recalled as he stood outside Wood’s home. “We’ve offered every resident who lives within this neighborhood if they can pass a background check and are legal, safety, tactical training, we’ll give them a free pump-action shotgun.”
The training he’s talking about starts inside a classroom at a Houston gun range. We sit among his students, which today, are single mothers like Rose Briseno.
Briseno is here because she said she lives in a rough neighborhood just outside of Houston and she’s scared something bad is going to happen to her young daughter.
“When my neighbor told me about it, oh my God, I was like, I love it!” she tells us.
Another mother tells the class she needs a shotgun to send a message to a neighbor that’s making her family nervous.
“I can’t even let my daughter catch the bus by herself, because he watches all the school kids get on the bus,” she explains.
The mothers sit through a legal and safety lecture given by Coplen. And then, it’s time to fire off some rounds.
The ACP is a non-profit, so all the free shotguns are either donated or purchased by money donated to the organization. Coplen said he wouldn’t be able to operate without the generosity of people who believe in his project. He encouraged fans of the ACP to help arm a group of women in this video.
We ask Coplen, why shotguns?
“Why shotguns?” he replies with a question and smiles. “‘Cause they’re great for home defense. They’re easy to learn how to use. Also the deterrent effect of the sound of the shotgun shell being racked does wonders.”
Is he worried about who he is arming? No. Never.
“Folks are going through the same process they would go through if they were buying a shotgun anyways,” he explains. “I don’t worry about who goes into… a Wal-Mart and buys a shotgun.”
In fact, he believes he is going above and beyond by requiring his candidates pass his training course. He hopes the shotguns are just a start; a gateway weapon to other firearms people are more comfortable with.
“We have a really good team I feel in Indy,” he says, thinking out loud. “Once more volunteers come in and start to help out we can really get going.”
However, arming Indianapolis may not be welcomed with open arms.
From sub machine guns to AR 15’s, Indianapolis’ First Christian Missionary Baptist Church is on a mission of its own. It’s pledged $10,000 to take guns out of neighborhoods.
“Many people are ignorant when it comes to gun safety and so, so many times you can give a person a weapon but that does not mean that that person knows how to use it even after they have fired it,” explains Bishop Damon Roach who is spearheading this movement. He has a lot of concerns about Coplen’s program.
“A lot of these thugs out here in the streets don’t have a weapon. So if they know there’s a shotgun or guns… you can look at statistics and see how many homes that have been broken into and all the guns stolen. All they wanted was the guns!”
But even Bishop Roach admits, there are those in his own church that would love a free shotgun if they had the chance. He tells us a story about a single mother who hasn’t felt safe in her home lately.
“She feels like ‘I would be safer to have a shotgun,'” he tells us. “Well… I do think she would be safer! But I think that it’s a tragedy that we have a female, single mother with a daughter-in-law living with her, with her son protecting our country, and we’re saying that our police department and sheriff’s department cannot protect that mother?!”
We take his concerns straight to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Rick Hite.
“Is that the only option? That we return back to the days when we use a gun?” he said. “An eye for an eye? And tooth for tooth? One wise man said an eye for and eye and tooth for tooth leaves us blind and toothless. So I think the whole idea is can we have a real conversation? Should we have a community conversation? Is it time now for a conversation around civility and understanding how to deal with conflict?”
Like Bishop Roach, he insisted he is a supporter of the second amendment, but he’s mostly concerned about how this would change the culture of our community.
“Have we come to that point? Please let us know, because we’re training police officers as we speak and we need to be prepared to teach them the values of a community. Is that the value we want to train our police officers?” he asked.
Back in Houston, signs are about to go up warning criminals which neighborhoods are armed by the ACP. Except no one knows which homes have the shotguns.
It’s a threat Coplen can’t wait to bring to the Circle City.
“I want people to be able to feel safe in their own homes,” said Coplen. “We want the criminals to be guessing. We want them to be playing Russian Roulette with their lives.”
Chief Hite and Bishop Roach have said they would be more than willing to sit down with Coplen to learn more about his program before he begins arming neighbors in Indianapolis. Coplen told Fox 59 he was planning to reach out to IMPD before as well.