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Texas lawmakers push to expand gun rights for first responders

A hearing will be held next week at the Texas Capitol on a bill that would allow all firefighters and emergency personnel to carry a gun while on duty. (Photo: CBS Austin)

A hearing will be held next week at the Texas Capitol on a bill that would allow all firefighters and emergency personnel to carry a gun while on duty. Supporters say it’s their second amendment right, but it’s not a right some first responders would use even if they could.

Right now the decision on whether first responders can carry weapons is decided by local governments, and current Austin city policy says only law enforcement carry guns. But some Texas lawmakers hope to force a change in that policy.

Advocates for arming first responders will frequently point to a particular case. In 2012 someone in Rochester, New York actually set a fire just to lure first responders into an ambush. Four firefighters were hit. Two of them died. That’s why Texas lawmakers want all first responders -- including volunteers -- to be able to carry a gun to defend themselves.

But local medics worry that arriving at a call armed might cost them their hard-earned reputation. Capt. Darren Noak works for Austin-Travis County EMS. He notes, “We’re there to help and we don’t want that image to be blurred or that line to be crossed even if it’s just a perception.”

That’s not to say the work isn’t dangerous. A survey by the National Association of EMTs finds just more that half of all medics reported being assaulted by a patient sometime in their career. But Noak counters that carrying a gun would present its own set of problems. “It’s protecting that weapon,” he says, “It’s worrying about that weapon. So it’s a whole other stress level, it’s a whole other issue that we just don’t feel is a good fit for our system.”

And local EMS feel they have good cooperation with the police and sheriff. Noak explains, “There’s a lot of times, a lot of call types where they not only respond concurrently with us but a lot of times they’ll go in first and clear the scene and then make sure it’s a safe environment for our medics to approach the scene.”

But that’s life in the big city. Local first responders concede they can see where volunteers in rural areas might find themselves in dangerous situations with law enforcement miles away. So the question before state lawmakers is who gets to make the call on whether they can carry a gun on duty—the first responder or the local officials they answer to.

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