Ohio bill would give some medics the right to bear arms

House Bill 288 would give medics guns only when they went with SWAT teams

By Brandon Glenn
MedCity News

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some Ohio emergency medical technicians could get the right to carry guns under a proposal in the state's legislature.

This seems to be an increasingly hot-button topic among EMTs, who raise the issue as they struggle to cope with rough neighborhoods, threatening onlookers, violent situations, and armed and unstable patients. Skeptics, meanwhile, point out that emergency scenes are cleared first by the police or dispatchers, and adding a gun to the EMT kit would unnecessarily expand the job and risk of emergency workers.

Ohio's legislation takes a narrow focus. House Bill 288 would give EMTs guns only when they went with SWAT teams. The law would also treat medical personnel like police in that they would have immunity from civil suits in connection with their use of guns when working with the SWAT team, said Republican Rep. Courtney Combs, the bill's sponsor.

"It's a bad situation if they call the SWAT team out," Combs said. "For the protection of the medical professionals, they should have the right to carry firearms."

That sounds about right to Dr. James Brown, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Wright State University's Boonshoft School of Medicine, which has a Division of Tactical Medicine to help first-responders deal with high-risk situations.

"Personally, I'm a fan of it but the concern is what's the [EMT's] motivation for being there? Is it just so you can carry a gun?" Brown said.

Brown acknowledged that there's some controversy in the field of tactical medicine over whether medics should be armed. Brown believes the benefits outweigh the risks.

"If they're armed for their own personal security, then that's a good idea," Brown said. "If they're not armed, then the team has to task someone to be their security. Some teams are small and that winds up being problematic."

EMTs wouldn't be required to carry a gun under the legislation. The decision would be left up to EMTs and the SWAT teams they work with, Combs said.

Combs said the need for such a law was brought to his attention by his son-in-law, Dr. William Brady, an emergency physician in Kettering, Ohio, who sometimes works with the Warren County SWAT team.

The Ohio State Medical Association, the state's largest physicians' group, hasn't taken a position on the legislation, a spokesman said. The president of the Ohio Association of Emergency Medical Services wasn't available for comment. Combs said he hadn't yet consulted with the emergency services group, but plans to contact interested parties within the next few months.

It's unclear how many, or if any, states have similar laws. A spokeswoman for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians said it advocates at a federal level and isn't involved in state legislation.

The bill hasn't been assigned to a committee and no hearings will be scheduled until Ohio lawmakers return from their break in September, Combs said.

Reprinted with permission from MedCity News.

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