Guns and EMS

Some of my favorite bloggers like Rogue Medic, Ambulance Driver, Under the Lights, and Greg Friese have been discussing the topic:

“Should EMS Be Allowed to Carry Concealed Hand Guns on the Job?”

While as a rule, I try not to discuss politics, religion or guns in the interest of getting along, after thinking about it, I decided to share some of my thoughts on the topic.

First off, here are my gun credentials.  I don’t have any.  I do not own a gun.  The last time I shot a gun was in YMCA camp when I was 12 and I earned a sharpshooter’s first class certificate with a 22 rifle.  I have never fired a handgun.

Perhaps I exhausted my gun desires during the cowboy phase of my early years.  There are many childhood photos of me with double  holstered cap guns drawn and firing.  I shot many an evil hombre with them, and once, unfortunately, I El-Kabonged a neighborhood friend with one of them during a play fight when I had not yet learned that there was a difference between cartoon violence and real violence.  I hit my friend in the head with my gun.  Hard.  His skin split open and out grew a lump just like in the toons, but unlike the toons, my momma got a phone call from my friend’s momma and I ended up getting grounded for a week, in addition to being spanked, back when spanking was not considered child abuse.

Today one of my best friends is a gun guy.  I would not call him a nut as I have great respect for his wisdom and judgment, particuarly on medical issues.  But I have been with him several times when he has visited with fellow gun aficionados.  These meetings tend to startle me.  Out of car trunks and boxes in closets and even desk drawers, these gun friendly folks always seem to produce all kinds of weaponry from German Lugars to assault rifles, which they pass around freely for admiration.  For someone who is not comfortable being around guns, it is quite an experience to behold, like suddenly feeling like you are the only human among an alien race or perhaps, maybe I am the only one from another planet, and I am just an outlier among red-blooded American males.  Sorry, I say, I’m good.  You can go on bogarting the 9 millimeter.  I don’t partake.  Curiously one day of my friend’s gun buddies called him up and asked my friend to come over to the buddy’s house and take his guns away (just temporarily) as he was having some difficulties with his girlfriend at the time and did not want the guns there should he feel any sudden angry impulses toward her.  I am uncertain if this is an example of responsible gun ownership or a reason to fear gun ownership.

For several years, I had a rifle in my apartment within reach of my bed as well as a handgun in the nightstand.  When my college girlfriend and I moved to a not the best neighborhood apartment complex in Arlington, Virginia, which at the time was all we could afford, her father gave us the guns which had belonged to her recently deceased grandfather.  He said he felt safer knowing we had them for protection.  I don’t even know if they worked or would have fired if I had pulled the trigger on an intruder. I don’t even know if the guns were registered or in Virginia, if they needed to be.  I know I should have at least taken them to a range and fired them a time or two, as well as taken a gun safety class.  But I didn’t. Fortunately, I never needed them. I shot no one and no one shot me.

I developed some rules about guns over the years.  Never date a woman who owns a gun (and unlike my girlfriend  at the time (a gentle soul) knows how to shoot it). Also, never date a woman who’s last boyfriend owns a gun.  I do read the papers and know the “one in the head two in the heart” slogan, (or is it “two in the heart, one in the head”).  And I have been on more than a few gun violence calls in my years, including one where the shooter ignored the above rule and got a little more personnel.  “My Dick! My Dick!” His victim cried.  ” He shot me in the Dick!”

I try to think back on all my years in EMS including many in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the nation (the violence seems to be largely directed at rival drug gangs and people who looked at them or their girlfriends the wrong way or innocent bystanders who were standing on the street corner doing nothing at 2:00 A.M. or innocent bystanders who were on their way to grammer school or even babes in their mother’s arms) and try to imagine when if any time a concealed weapon would have benefited me or whether or not I would have ever been tempted to pull it or shoot someone.

I did recently watch a rather chilling ESPN movie about a high school basketball star in Chicago (Ben Wilson who was the number #1 prospect in the nation) who was gunned down near his school one day back in 1984.  At the time, it was reported that he was a victim of a mugging.  In the movie however, they interview the shooter, who claimed he had taken his father’s handgun and gone out to try to get ten dollars back from a friend who had had it ripped off from another friend.  His story is when when he got there, the debt had already been settled, so he was just hanging out in front of a store with the gun still in his pants when the basketball player walked by and accidently bumped him.  When he shouted at the player to show some respect, the player turned and belittled him.  Words were exchanged.  It was then, the boy showed the gun in his pants.  But instead of having its intended effect of scaring off the taller boy, the ballplayer laughed at him and said, “What are you going to do shoot me?” And walked towards him.  The boy recalled his father saying that if you ever drew a gun, you would need to be prepared to use it, since he had just then suddenly drawn the gun, he was already at that point.  Boom!  Boom!  Boom! Two lives changed in an instant.

It is impossible for me to think of drawing a gun and then using it if the draw didn’t prevent the episode.  And in EMS it is hard for me imagine drawing on a rational person, of which we encounter so few.  Again, I am not gun-trained so I would have no business carrying a gun much less drawing it. But if I was qualified, I still have a hard time imagining it.

I have been lucky in that most of the violence against me has been from demented old ladies, hypoglycemics, and a few crazy people on PCP.  I am also lucky that I am both six foot eight, two hundred and twenty pounds and somewhat slow moving so that when I have been rushed and I have been, I have not appeared to be either aggressive or frightened.  I merely put my hands up, take a step back, and say, “Wow, Dude!”  I don’t project aggression.  I back off, I speak quietly and I never physically engage unless the patient is less than ten in which case, I can pick them up at arm’s length while they punch and kick, but are beyond the reach of my torso.  Maybe I have just been lucky.

Some of my fellow medics have gotten into wrestling matches, and I have jumped into the back of several ambulances in response to calls for help. Fortunately there have been enough of us, along with our trusty friends Ativan and Haldol to subdue the threats. But I wouldn’t want to be wrestling if I had a gun on me, but then again, I don’t even know where a concealed gun goes. In my boot? Up my sleeve? I am ignorant of these things.

I can’t recall any EMS people being shot on the job around here.  I know one who was stabbed, but that was at very close range and by a psychiatric patient who grabbed the medic’s own sissors and struck him in the leg.  I do know of ambulances being shot at and occasionally hit.  The last shooting I responded to involved a man who was sitting with another man in his car, doing a drug deal.  A man walked up to the car and shot the driver five times. The other guy got out of the car and walked away with the shooter. An ambulance crew driving down the street, heard the shots, ducked and then the next thing they knew they were getting T-boned by the shot man, who had put his car in gear and floored it.  The crew was okay and the man who had been shot five times, was lucky enough to survive himself. What if that crew had been packing? Would they have pulled their guns instead of ducking? Would one have attended to the patient while the other chased the bad men?

Many years ago in our city, a paramedic came upon a shooting as the gunmen sped away. The crowd pointed toward the car, and the paramedic seeing no one shot, (without getting out of his ambulance to check futher) immediately sped off after the get-a-way car, relaying information to the police over his radio. The police gave him a medal. His medical director almost yanked his medical control. It was quite a controversy that even played out in the newspapers. His fellow employees were not happy with him. I have always felt like we are without sides. We have free passes to wander through even the most dangerous areas. This made us targets. Not good.

I can recall a number of police officers being shot in the area.  Every one of them was ambushed, and several likely never knew what hit them.  Some officers have shot people who proved to be unarmed, which does not mean they did not pose immediate and deadly threats to the officers. And then there have been quite a few officers who pulled the trigger on themselves, sitting in their lonely cars, contemplating their lives gone adrift in an unpleasant world.

So given all of the above to show where I am coming from, it is no surprise that I would never carry a concealed handgun on the job.  I am clearly afraid of guns in most anyone’s hands.  But how do I feel about others who are trained, rational and with quicker instincts and reflexes than my own carrying?  I do believe EMS has the right to protect itself and I believe in a safety first culture.  But let me ask this, Mr. Potential Gun Carrying EMT, how committed to safety are you?  How committed are your fellows in arms?

Do you always wear gloves when touching a patient?

Do you always wear your seat belt? In the back as well as the front?

Do you work out in the gym, stretching and strengthening?

Do you eat a balanced diet?

Do you smoke?

Do you get enough sleep?

Have you had a flu shot?

Do you wear a safety helmet on duty throughout the entire shift?

Do you stop at every intersection when going lights and sirens and look both ways.

Do you wear body armor?

Do you wash your hands after every patient contact?

I do all of the above except wear the body armor and get the sleep part, and the wearing the seat belt in the back part, and the safety helmet, and sometimes the glove part and the always stopping completely at the intersection part, and remembering to wash my hands after every call, although I do wash my hands fairly regularly throughout the day, as well as use those ubiquitous foams.

 If you do all these things, then you are committed to safety, and as long as you have taken the proper gun safety classes and feel you are not a threat to your patients, the public or yourself carrying a gun, then I might stop and listen to you explain why carrying a gun on you while treating patients is a good idea.

Peace and respect to all my brothers and sisters.




  • Andy says:

    I definitely don’t think guns and EMS should mix. I work where you do. I do have a concealed carry permit, and I do own a number of firearms. I don’t hate or fear guns. However, I don’t have any military or police tactical training. No matter how much range time a person has, it can’t give a person the trigger discipline and other skills needed in a tactical situation.

    If I’m carrying at work and I get surprised by a patient, what good will a gun do? Do I pull it and start firing? Do I hit my partner, or the other 8 people in the little apartment? Does that slug go into the apartment next door or downstairs and kill someone just sitting on their couch? If trained NYPD officers can’t shoot a target without hitting 7 innocent bystanders, how can I? If I do hit and kill the target, I’ve just ruined any good will EMS in the city has. We all become target for retaliation. My patient/victim’s buddies will be out for me, just like they would be in a gang war. If the dust head goes crazy in the back of the truck, do I shoot then and risk hitting people outside the truck or again, my partner? Even if I don’t draw my weapon, does my patient take my gun away? There’s a reason prison guards aren’t armed when they’re among the population in the facility.

    I’d much rather rely on experience and leave when I realize a situation looks like it might go sideways. Let the cops do their job. They get paid a lot more.

    A gun might lower that awareness, and give a false sense of security. Firefighters are dying at the same rate, roughly, as they did in the 70’s but there are far fewer fires. One of the many reasons is they have much better gear. It lets them travel much farther into a building and they don’t feel the heat as much. Then when things go south they’re too far in to get out. I feel like some people in EMS would wander into situations we’d never go into now, thinking “It’s OK. I’ve got my gun.”

  • Steve says:

    My first job in EMS was at EMSA in OKC. A great service to get on with and one you should be proud to get on with because the medical directive testing is a hard one to pass. This is where I was first introduced to a bullet vest and the incidents your not taught in school. A paramedic had been shot there, approaching a home that didn’t warrant a police assist. The woman shot him in the hand from the living room window. From then on bullet vests were made available to anyone wanting one. I chose to wear one. Just for my own safety. A normal/routine call can turn bad at any moment. In Kansas City, MO a paramedic and EMT were shot to death while sitting in their rig at a fire station. The paramedics ex boyfriend hunted them down. Would a gun have saved them? Probably not but there is a slight chance it could have helped defend them.

  • Intelligent, well-reasoned response, Peter. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Chris says:

    As EMS providers, we all had to attend training courses and pass a lot of tests in order to be released to function in the world. We regularly must attend refresher training and put our skills to task everyday in order to maintain those skills.

    My belief is that “if” an EMS professional also goes through the proper training, skills demonstration, and refresher courses that they should be allowed to carry at their own discretion. So long as they demonstrate a commitment to safety then they should be allowed to protect themselves, their partners, and their patients.

    You comment about how you are not committed to safety or at least that’s my observation from your statements. You don’t get enough sleep, wear your seatbelt, wear gloves, wash hands, or stop at intersections. But we should trust you with drugs that you are going to inject into a patient? Why should we trust you? Because you took the appropriate training, passed tests, and demonstrated you are competent to do so.

    How can you say that someone who demonstrates all the proper safety commitments must still explain to you why they should be allowed? Do your partners have to do the same in order to run calls with you? Are you questioning them before letting them drive the rig to a call? No because they passed all the requirements to do so. When your supervisor says that someone is your new partner and they are good to go you believe it.

    My point is that if someone has met the requirements to do the job then you do not have a right to question them. If law states that they are allowed to carry a firearm and meet the guidelines to do so then you are in no place to say otherwise.

    I have been doing this job since 1991 and not once have I had a Q&A session with a partner about whether or not I feel they are capable of doing the job. They have a license and got past my bosses in the interview process so I expect them to do it right. If they do it wrong then someone dies. It doesn’t matter if it is using a firearm or morphine, the outcome can be the same.

  • Brian says:

    The average officer pulls his gun less then once in a 20 year span, I guess they should follow your concepts of looking back and feeling they don’t need to be armed since nothing ever happened to you?

  • CJ Ewell says:

    FWIW, I have a concealed carry permit in my state. I would never carry at work for the simple reason that while armed, I need to pay attention to where my gun is and make sure that I am in control of it at all times. I can’t see how I can do that while working on a patient. If engaged in patient care, I cannot divide my attention to keep my gun safe. Got that? I NEED TO KEEP MY GUN SAFE, just as much as the gun is there for my personal safety. Can’t do both. There.

  • Dan says:

    I’ve been carrying a pistol for 25 years here in Ct. Exactly one time it has saved my bacon. 10 years ago I was picking up my wife from work on Main St in Hartford near the Atheneum when a guy tried to carjack me with my 8 year old son in the backseat strapped into his booster seat. After yelling at the top of my lungs did no good I swept the long shirt I was wearing and pulled the pistol out of the waistband holster. When I drew the gun I was sure I was going to shoot him. At the sight of the gun the guy ran off as fast as he could. I was and am grateful that I was carrying that day, I can only imagine what might have happened if I wasn’t. That being said, I never carry when I’m on the ambulance. I just don’t want to have to keep track of a gun while I’m providing patient care. If I have any hinky feeling about either the patient, the situation or the look of any bystanders when I get on scene, I call dispatch and tell them to send me the police. While this works for me, I have a hard time telling another medic who has jumped through the required hoops to get a permit that he can’t carry. I believe it should be a personal choice that everyone should make for themselves.

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