A shootout in Pine Bluff, Arkansas last week left one man dead and two others injured, after an armed suspect shot and wounded a pair of paramedics who were treating the man’s girlfriend. One of the paramedics was carrying a gun of his own, however, and returned fire, killing the attacker.
Unlike several other states that have passed legislation in recent years allowing for EMTs, paramedics, and even some firefighters to carry on the job, Arkansas law is silent on the issue. Now, one state lawmaker says it’s time to change that.
State Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado, whose district includes Pine Bluff, said he had been contacted by several first-responders in the wake of last week’s shooting in Pine Bluff that left two paramedics injured from gunfire. One of them had a gun, and after being shot three times by an assailant, was able to return fire, killing the man.
Garner said he did not believe there was any state law that would preclude a first-responder, such as an emergency medical technician, from having a concealed-carry permit, but new legislation would make it clear that they can.
He said that any adjustment to the law would yield to an agency’s policy on whether employees may or may not carry a gun.
“That’s not a legal matter,” Garner said, referring to a company’s policy. “I don’t want to step in on that and override what a company is doing.”
Gardner has yet to formally introduce a bill, but says it could take a couple of different forms. The simplest bill, he says, would merely clarify state law and expressly state that it’s legal for first responders to carry with a concealed carry license. Another option would be to set up a specific training regimen for first responders that would allow them to carry on the job.
The private ambulance company that the Pine Bluff paramedics worked for hasn’t said whether they specifically allow their employees to be armed on the job, but they also haven’t indicated that they’ll be taking any type of disciplinary action against the paramedic who used his gun to defend himself and his partner. Josh Bishop, the CEO of EASI Ambulance, did tell the El Dorado News that there are discussions about providing crews with body armor, but other ambulance providers around the state are taking a closer look at allowing employees to lawfully carry while they’re working.
Jon Swanson, head of MEMS, Little Rock’s municipal ambulance service that serves Pulaski County and several counties and cities in central Arkansas, said it is his agency’s police not to allow guns on their ambulances. But he said that policy would be reviewed because of what happened in Pine Bluff.
“I’m sure that we will consider this and re-evaluate the policy in light of this particular situation,” Swanson said.
He said he did not know if there was overriding state law on the subject because he had never asked the question himself. Despite his agency’s policy on the subject, he did say that had the one paramedic not had a gun, the assailant might have “finished what he started,” But he said such instances are rare and that arming people with guns raises ethical and legal questions.
In looking back at what happened, he said, it’s easy to say “it’s good that they were able to defend themselves,” but he added that that one instance might not be sufficient cause to arm all EMTs.
“I honestly don’t know if that is the best option,” he said. “We’re not law enforcement officers.”
No, EMTs and paramedics aren’t cops, but they’re often called out to the same scenes, and may even arrive before police do. What happens if they are confronted by an angry patient or relative and have no means of self-defense?
Frankly, the reason why it’s easy to say “it’s good that they were able to defend themselves” is because it’s true. I’d encourage Swanson and anyone else in Arkansas that’s setting policy for first responders to take a look at the experience of states like West Virginia, which expressly allowed the practice via legislation in 2019.
There’ve been no issues since that state’s new law took effect, and there’s no reason why Arkansas would be any different, especially given the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any legal barrier preventing paramedics from carrying right now, outside of their company’s policy. It may be a sad fact of life, but it’s still a fact that these first responders need to be able to protect themselves while on the job.