Have you ever tried to kill a noxious, invasive weed in your yard? Think of something like bamboo or creeping charlie… something that isn’t serving any purpose and is hurting the growth of the good grass that you want to be in your lawn, something that just keeps popping up no matter what you seem to do.
That, my friends, is how I feel about the recent eruption of posts on Facebook and the blogs lately about how EMS providers should be allowed to carry guns. It’s an annoyance and hurts any constructive growth for our profession.
I’m going to come out right now and say that it is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad idea that needs to be put down the sewer like the turd of an idea it is. EMS providers should not carry guns. Not now, not ever. Never ever never never never. It is a terrible idea fraught with so many perils and pitfalls that it is more than just a slippery slope; it is a death trap that stands to hurt everyone should it come to fruition anywhere.
I didn’t form this opinion lightly. In fact, I strongly support our right as Americans to keep and bear arms. I generally support concealed carry. I don’t take disagreeing with the likes of the venerable Kelly Grayson as anything other than something very serious. I respectfully, yet strenuously, disagree with his opinion and while I know he has reasons for what he believes; I just can’t support his position on this issue.
EMS providers should not carry guns. They should not be issued guns to carry by their agencies; they should not be allowed to carry on-duty even if they have a permit to carry off-duty; they should not be allowed to carry even if they are sworn law enforcement officers working EMS part-time or as a volunteer. I do not say this because I am a bleeding-heart liberal because I am not. I say this, because it is a terrible idea.
Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Using a weapon for defense or as a tool for any other kind of task takes training, experience, and practice. Not only that, it takes lots of training, lots of experience, and lots of practice. Police officers, military heroes, and other professionals who are armed for their occupations receive lots of training, experience, and (hopefully) practice. Without it, any weapon becomes less of a tool and more of a liability. Remember folks, EMS is a profession where members furiously struggle against adding even tiny amounts of time to their initial training classes and can barely be forced to sit through, let alone actively participate in required continuing education classes. Can we ever hope to get them to train, practice, and gain experience in the safe handling and use of a weapon? It’s not possible and won’t happen.
2. Has gun violence against EMS providers spiked recently? Is it really bad out there? I personally know police officers who have been fired upon and hear regularly about police officers who have been shot. It’s terrible for them and I respect the courage they display by simply doing their jobs. While I hear about and have personally experienced physical attacks on EMS providers, the vast majority of them are closed hand attacks perpetrated by mentally impaired, intoxicated, or otherwise disturbed individuals, I rarely if ever have heard of an EMS provider being shot with a gun or stabbed. While I could believe that EMS providers have a higher risk of being shot or stabbed while performing their duties than does the general public, I have never seen data to prove that. I’ll concede though, that it passes the smell test and could be true. However… do you want to know why EMS providers aren’t being shot, stabbed, or assaulted to the extent that police officers are? It’s because we’re not cops. It should never be taken lightly that we are, if not considered neutral in street culture as we are targeted on occasion, largely considered to be non-combatants. We’re not cops. We’re out there to make everyone feel better and are largely being left alone. It’s a finite balance that will be upset the first time that Clint EMStwood pulls out his shootin’ iron and points it at a gang-banger. Once that happens, we lose our neutrality and will be targeted much more often than the comparatively rare times we are now. People will die because of it.
3. More lives have been saved by EMS’s policy of withdrawal from violent situations than could ever be saved by EMS carrying guns. It isn’t cowardly for us to withdraw, it is lifesaving. We do not enter dangerous situations and we do whatever we can to run from them when we find them. Bravado doesn’t figure in to this. We don’t do it because we are cowardly; we do it because it is not our role to face violence. Eventually, people who skirt this rule and do not withdraw run into situations where they must act in a hostile nature to defend themselves or someone else. Eventually, people who do not withdraw injure or kill someone; perhaps they are injured or killed themselves. EMS providers do not have the legal protection, authority, or ability to act in hostile situations. It isn’t our job and it isn’t our job for a reason. That’s what cops do and EMS providers aren’t cops. If you personally want to be a cop, go be a cop. If you wanted to be a cop but found out that it was easier to get a job as an EMT and now hope to bridge the jobs to realize your dreams, then please leave EMS. You’re not helping as much as you think you are. If you just want to strap a gun on your uniform because you think it looks cool, you’re probably not the type of person who reads EMS blogs because of all of the fancy words we tend to use. You may say that we can still withdraw at the same rates that we do now, but I’ll quote my father, who told me that “When you have a gun, every fight is a gun fight.”
You may disagree with me and that’s fine. Please leave your reasoned, courteous debate in the comments section. However I will state that all of the debates on this topic tend to degenerate into shouting matches where the supporters of EMS providers carrying guns prove to me that the state of this country’s educational system could stand to be improved. Do not do that here.
Stay safe out there. If you'd like to read another opinion I agree with, our friend Greg Friese posted this on the same topic.