By now, the majority of Americans have heard and voiced their opinions regarding gun control legislation. The American Fire Service has been a part of the gun culture on multiple fronts for decades. The current fervor in the media over what may or may not be constitutional seems to be devoid of the rational discourse that this subject demands.
First and foremost, many firefighters are hunters and gun sport participants and own guns themselves. The major hunting seasons in most fire houses are some of the most coveted vacation times during the year, with various competitions to see who gets to pick the coveted slot of opening day. Many firefighters have various trophies in their homes, and will treat those who were unfortunate enough to have to work during the hunt to some of their quarry. So, to say that guns and the fire service are unrelated would be an inaccurate statement on many levels.
But, there is another side that many people do not realize exists for many in the fire service as well, and that is the end result of the irresponsible and the unworthy who use firearms of any type in ways that are not socially or morally acceptable.
Approximately half of the States have laws that are described as either "castle doctrine" or "stand your ground." Personal protection is a right that is difficult to quantify under a constitutional entry, as it may simply be an implied concept under "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," or perhaps on some other more specific ideological reading of an Amendment. But the larger issue that is rarely discussed with the concept of personal protection is the aftermath of firing a gun, and taking another human life.
Firefighters routinely enter a room or building to see the aftermath of shootings. The blood spray on the wall that is eerily similar to a modern artist's technique of painting. The tissue and bone defying gravity, hanging as if they were spitballs thrown by children waiting for someone to come and clean away their existence. The unique metallic odor that is present with gun shot wounds to the head. The eyes that are lifelessly gazing at nothing, misaligned by the trauma. And the human reaction of family or bystanders, screaming in such a way as if attempting to reach the Almighty, or to call the decedent back to life. The final piece of the horror of this scene is often the age of the fallen, which is exponentially deepened the younger the victim is.
The aftermath of these scenes for professionals is often met with some form of mental health analysis and group counseling. Critical incident stress debriefing is mandated by some departments when the victim of the shooting is a child. Some first responders develop difficulties with these incidents over time. The violent death of another human being is not an easy or normal concept, one which the human subconscious struggles.
But what about the average person? How is the person on the street left to deal with the aftermath of a "defensive" shooting? Legal challenges and civil litigation are often the normal path forward. Months following a defensive shooting, the shooter is still awaiting a decision regarding their status if any question exists. Even if the shooting is determined to be justified, the family of the deceased will inevitably contact an attorney and seek civil damages for the lost life, which will take years to wind through the courts. Where is the support for these people? The long and short of it, it does not really exist.
Those who are strong advocates for more guns in the public domain fail to see the deeper and longer term crisis that will be brought upon those who, with too cavalier an attitude, decide that they have a right to exercise a defensive action to this level. Too often, the right to carry a firearm does not have the necessary training attached to it. A few hours in a classroom reviewing general legal aspects and the process of how firearms work does serve the purpose of "informing." But to what level does this "training" prepare a person to react?
Within the law enforcement communities and military communities there is a concept called "recognition primed decision making," or RPDM. The long and the short of this concept is a person is placed in a simulated dangerous or threatening situation repeatedly with escalating difficulty and threat, so that a mental checklist of actions is used, and the proper reaction occurs with a minimal delay and with a high degree of accuracy, both in execution and in decision making. The end result of this training is an ability to recognize a threat almost instantaneously and correctly react. This type of training is not the kind that is completed in a weekend or even a series of weekends. This type of training is commonly measured in months.
Taking on the responsibility of life or death of another person is not something that can be undertaken without a due regard for the serious nature of this decision. Responsible gun ownership and use requires a true understanding of what each level of use of this tool carries. Training that is too short or ineffective, intended to placate the ideological rights advocate and those who are demanding some form of instruction fails to address these different and escalating responsibilities. Neither side of the issue is being properly addressed.
Those gun owners who are avid participants in the shooting sports are well-versed in the use of fire arms. Most have a specific style of firearm that best suits their interests. For this group to view any novice gun owner having to under government mandated training as being a restriction on constitutional right demeans their hobby. True hobbyists seek any novitiate undertaking an avocation to have an in-depth understanding and deep respect for the hobby. Guns are no different. It is not the seasoned gun owner that is necessarily putting the public at risk, but the low information, reactionary person who operates more emotionally than rationally, and may fail to understand the truly important nature of required training programs.
Those who advocate for better education are often too uninformed to realize that "some training is better than no training" is not always a wise choice. Accepting a training program that fails to meet certain criteria, but covers others fails to address some of the key issues with gun ownership and use. A truly balanced program would provide the information as it relates to gun related deaths in the home, and as part of a self-defense program. Such information would strike a certain cord with some people, who would then be more willing to better safeguard their weapons. The cavalier attitude that a gun must be always loaded an unlocked to fend off intruders could possibly be diminished. Understanding the crime statistics in one's home neighborhood may help inform such decisions. Better locks instead of a gun may prove a cheaper and more realistic course of action. Pursuing more in-depth threat reaction training would help to avoid situations such as the one in Florida where music was perceived as a justifiable reason to utilize deadly force.
So, the question has to be why is this important to the fire service? Why should the public care?
Cavalier attitudes about guns have become problematic. The public costs of mass shootings are rarely calculated and published. If they are, they often are not pursued in the aftermath of a mass shooting, as this financial analysis is rightly viewed as calloused and uncaring. But there is a cost, and it is significant.
Mass shootings are still, thankfully, a rare event when compared to the larger number of all gun-related incidents where fire and EMS are involved. A single shooting victim that requires advanced life support, or ALS, which is normally any incident where the gun shot involves the head or body, or where significant bleeding occurs, will see an approximate cost of $10,000, for manpower, equipment, and supplies. With national estimates around 30,000 deaths from gun violence annually, the national cost of gun violence for fire and EMS responders only would be $3,000,000,000 annually. This doesn't include the cost for emergency rooms, hospital admissions to the ICU or the operating suite, nor does it account for the other gun-related crimes that are estimated anywhere from 150,000 to 400,000 a year, but do not result in death. So, when the elected officials are looking at how to curb costs, reduce expenses and maintain the line on taxes, how does the concept of more guns work into that calculus?
The average gun owner should be willing and demand others who have guns take affirmative steps to secure their weapons. If you are not carrying the weapon, and are not in a position that you will be using it, the weapon should be secured. Trigger locks, barrel locks, and a true gun safe (Not a curio cabinet with glass doors to display the weapons, but a secured fire proof vault.). Restricting access from children simply makes sense. Teenage suicides by fire arms do not happen because the child asked for permission to use the gun, but because in the impulse of the moment the unsecured weapon was available. This writer has witnessed too many of these calls, and each one could have been prevented simply by securing the weapon and ammunition. And in each of these cases, the parents and friends said they never sensed that the victim was that depressed or on the edge of such an action. It is truly too little, too late at that point to only then realize how a trigger lock and gun safe would have altered the situation, and the temporary problem would not have received a permanent and wrong solution.
Sandy Hook Elementary would not have been possible had some sensible action been taken by one individual secure their weapons and ammunition.
Universal background checks on ALL firearms purchases would help to prevent the gun show loophole that permits many street gangs to arm themselves through admittedly illegal activity. This would prevent a sizable number of guns from reaching those American cities that currently have more shooting deaths than most of the world's war zones. Reducing this stream of weapons into the hands of criminals has multiple benefits to society. Reducing the violence will allow kids to be kids. It will reduce the burden on local budgets when it comes to emergency response. It will allow neighborhoods to find some sense of normalcy that resembles any average town in America.
Rational thinking is what is needed. Leaving the hyperbole at the fringe is how this country needs to proceed.
First responders do not need another GSW. First responders do not need to see another family shattered because of a senseless act that was propagated due to irrational gun ownership rules and a minority of very vocal but myopic gun advocates.
No family should have to endure the tragedy of being the victim of gun violence. The solution is reasonable and straightforward. The rights of those who are capable of responsibly possessing a firearm will not be infringed. Those who threaten a centuries-old sport will be kept away from a tool they cannot responsibly handle. The safety of the rest of the public will be better secured.
And mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Tuscon, AZ will be less likely to happen...We can only hope.