CHICAGO — As Chicago police try to get as many guns off the streets as possible, an Indiana native and lifelong Cubs fan wants to put shotguns in the hands of residents living in the city's high-crime neighborhoods.
The Armed Citizen Project made headlines after the National Rifle Association's convention in Houston this weekend, and project founder Kyle Coplen, 29, said he hopes the extra attention will help him expand to Chicago, New York and beyond.
Coplen launched the project in Houston by providing shotguns and training to single mothers, women and other "vulnerable" citizens in a high-crime Houston neighborhood. He said the response was overwhelmingly positive, and now he wants to take it to the city he loved to visit as a child.
"I grew up visiting Chicago ... going to Cubs games," Coplen said in a phone interview Sunday. "It really breaks my heart to see what's going on in that city."
Coplen, who now lives in Texas, came up with the idea to arm and train citizens during his final semester at the University of Houston. He had visited the home of a World War II veteran whose home had been badly vandalized, and as he helped the man put his house back together, he had an idea.
"I started to think about what we as society could do to deter home invasion crimes in the future," Coplen said in a phone interview Sunday. "It's our hypothesis that criminals do not want to die in your hallway. We think that society should use that fear to deter crime."
Coplen said he followed the news reports of muggings by large groups of teens on Michigan Avenue and said Chicago's "no gun" approach empowers criminals. He said even gun-control advocates should support his project, which requires background checks, firearm training and complies with state laws.
Chicago's Englewood neighborhood has seen its share of violence over the years, but longtime resident Vitular Gilbert said she does not believe arming citizens will help.
"The mayor and the governor should do whatever it takes to stop them," said the 78-year-old grandmother. "If you want to do something to help, guns is not the answer."
Mattie Bradley, also an Englewood grandmother and member of First Community Baptist Church, agreed.
"I think it would hurt ... it'd be devastating ... a disservice," Bradley said. "Mothers need to stand up and help their children, but not with guns. They need to lead their children"
Chicago has been a target for gun rights advocates following a violent 2012, and at Saturday's NRA convention, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre continued his criticism, calling Chicago the "deadliest city in America."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, however, have dismissed NRA claims that arming citizens will reduce crime.
"The answer to firearms is not more firearms," McCarthy said in December. "The answer is not more guns.
"This is not brain surgery. It's really simple. Fact is, too many guns leads to more violence," McCarthy continued. "We have to wake an American consciousness to this. And I don't know how some people sleep at night thinking they can defend this."
Coplen said his project is being funded by private donations, and said it would expand to other cities as soon as possible.