Free shotguns in major US cities?

In an experimental bid to determine whether wider gun ownership could lead to a decline in crime, a University of Houston graduate student and the Armed Citizens Project is looking to give away shotguns to residents of fifteen cities.

Kyle Coplen, 29, is the founder of the Armed Citizens Project, a group which announced that it will seek to expand its program into the Chicago Metropolitan Area at a recent National Rifle Association convention in Houston, Texas.

According to Coplen, the idea is to give out free, 20-gauge single-barrel shotguns to residents living in mid- to high-crime neighborhoods to see whether the presence of armed homes would cause a drop in crime.

“Gun-control advocates often argue that an increase in guns in an area will lead to an increase in crime, while gun-rights advocates often believe that fewer guns result in more crime. While both sides often argue that their opponents’ policies will result in more crime, gun-control proponents have largely been the victors when it comes to policy implementation,” explains the Armed Citizens Project’s website.

New measures in Congress to enact federal background checks for gun owners and the defeat of various other gun control measures indicate that in reality, gun control supporters do not have the upper hand in policy implementation.

While states such such as Connecticut and Colorado have recently passed new controls on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, elsewhere, such as in Texas and South Carolina, state legislatures are lobbying to attract gun industry investment and working on legislation to further bolster access to guns.

One Texas bill that would ban state and local police from working with federal authorities on new gun control regulations was recently passed by the state House.

As for the Armed Citizens Project, according to Coplen the group intends to both screen participants for its shotgun give-away project and provide training for those selected.

“We’re not just tossing a bunch of shotguns into a community and walking away,” Coplen told Fox 26.

“What we’re doing is finding residents who are interested in protecting themselves. we’re not forcing guns on anyone,” he added.

In addition to offering free guns, the Armed Citizens Project is setting its sights on local gun buyback programs. The group hopes to dissuade those looking to hand over their guns with training sessions, or even have those weapons traded in for 20-gauge shotguns.

City and county-sponsored gun buybacks have recently become a point of contention for gun rights advocates. In Arizona, for example, Governor Jan Brewer recently signed a bill prohibiting cities and counties in that state from destroying guns collected through such programs, instead mandating that they be sold to licensed dealers.

The Armed Citizens Project hopes to distribute guns to hundreds of people living in major American cities by the end of the year. The program is already active in Houston and Tucson, Arizona, and in addition to Chicago they are also setting their sights on New York and Detroit. In Houston, local news channel WGN reports that 100 people have already signed up for the project.

Despite early success, Copley anticipates that getting his project started in a city such as New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a staunch proponent of gun regulation, will be a hurdle.

“I really don’t care what [Bloomberg] thinks. I can’t think of one thing he’s ever done besides being a successful businessman that I can agree with,” said Coplen to the NY Daily News.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has already shown skepticism of Copley’s project.

“You need a permit … so obviously you won’t be able to do it here,” Kelly told the Daily News on Monday.

In addition to broad discretion over gun permits, the New York Police Department requires a $140.00 shotgun permit fee, in addition to a fingerprinting charge of $91.50.

Coplen intends to request donations to help low-income city applicants secure the necessary permits.

“I guess the Bloomberg administration doesn’t want poor people to be able to defend themselves. I guess that right is left to the elites,” Coplen told Daily News.