Editorial: Should Tennessee firefighters be armed?

Editorial Board • Apr 2, 2019 at 5:45 PM

Should firefighters and emergency responders be armed? A bill moving through the Tennessee legislature would allow local supervisors to make that decision, although it’s rare for first responders to be shot or shot at. Units authorized to carry concealed weapons will incur substantial increases in liability insurance, resulting in increased budget costs to local taxpayers.

Sponsors say the bill would allow firefighters and EMS personnel to protect themselves when they respond to emergencies in rural areas where law enforcement response times are slower due to the distance required to arrive at a scene. But those are areas least able to afford higher insurance costs. As well, there are concerns about how firefighters would secure weapons if they are fighting a fire and would need to disarm themselves.

We believe the bill blurs the line between police and other emergency personnel and places firefighters and EMS workers at greater risk.

Currently, they are seen as unarmed persons who come to help those in need. But if this bill is approved, the bad guys won’t know whether or not they are armed and will consider them as risks to be dealt with. And if EMS personnel are called to a scene where guns may be prohibited such as a school or a hospital, they will have to disarm themselves before entering, wasting precious time.

The bill provides that responders would only require eight hours of annual training, grossly insufficient to prepare emergency personnel to make life-or-death decisions with a weapon. It increases the odds that if under fire, they could return fire to the wrong person, shooting a team member or a bystander.

Police undergo thorough training and do not use deadly force except as a last resort. A firefighter who shoots someone to death without having the same level of training as a police officer could face repercussions. And so would the community for which the responder works.

There’s no doubt that in a more violent society, firefighters and EMS responders are at increased risk of being injured or even shot at. But it’s not at a level where they should be armed. And if it’s not a problem in Tennessee, why bother with legislation that causes a different one?

What do you think? Please send your views to [email protected]

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