Should EMS Providers Be Carrying Guns on the Job?
The topic of EMS and fire personnel carrying firearms on duty has been covered heavily in both the news and blogosphere lately. I should preface this post by stating that I absolutely have a bias. I am a gun owner and I support the rights of individual citizens to keep and bear arms. I also support the idea of issuing concealed weapons permits to responsible citizens who demonstrate proficiency. I additionally support the right of business owners to post that they do not wish for concealed weapons to be carried on their property.
With that out of the way, I’m very reluctant to think that “arming EMT’s” is a good idea. Kelly makes some compelling arguments in the blog post linked above. I’m not reluctant to support this concept for really any of the reasons he quoted in his article, however.
Do I think that EMS workers will engage in vigilante justice?
No, I don’t.
Do I think that EMS workers will resort to using their firearm rather than trying to talk a patient down or use sedatives?
No, I don’t.
Do I think that a hapless EMS worker will have their firearm taken from them and wind up looking down the barrel of their own weapon?
Likely not, but it’s certainly happened to police officers, so there is a risk, albeit a small one.
So what’s the problem then?
My concern about this emerging trend is that armed EMS workers are not consistent with where our focus should be. The news article linked above contains a quote that the Fire Chief of German Township, Ohio has had a weapon pulled on him twice in his career. While not exclusively, most of those type of situations result from a lack of awareness on the part of the responders. I’ve worked in some of the worst areas in California and haven’t ever had a gun pulled on me. Without pulling up statistics I’m going to hazard a guess that there is more violent crime in Oakland, CA than German Township, OH.
Most of the firearms training I’ve been a part of has stated something along the lines of “a weapon isn’t any good to you locked up”. This is certainly true. A firearm will not accomplish its purpose unloaded and locked away. Since EMS and fire responders in this case would not be sworn officers, if a call occurred inside a business that had a sign displayed explicitly prohibiting concealed carry or somewhere like a post office, then it doesn’t do those responders much good. Additionally, after having walked up to the door and realized that they can’t carry inside, they will have to return to their vehicle, secure their firearm and proceed back inside. If this is a cardiac arrest, sepsis or STEMI patient, this undue delay can have potentially detrimental effects on patient outcome.
Finally, firearms training repeats the tenet: “Be aware of your target and what is around it”. Responders who should be focused on their patient will not be fully cognizent of their surroundings. This creates an inherent risk of an accidental or improper discharge. It is also the reason that many police officers I know elect not to carry off duty when with their children. If the scene is that borderline, you should/should have called for police support. I have never once in my career been given grief for falling back or staging because a scene got sketchy.
At the end of the day, I fully support the rights of individuals to conceal carry. I think that allowing responders to do so, when we have a resource like the police department available, splits the focus away from our patients and has the potential to delay care. Carry off duty, not on.
Agree? Disagree? Fire away in the comments!