Texas senate endorses letting first responders carry guns

By AP Author , Phil Archer - Reporter

AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Senate has endorsed allowing paramedics and other first-responders, including volunteer firefighters, to carry concealed handguns.

The bill was proposed by Houston firefighter Chris McAllister, who has single-handedly lobbied similar bills, though unsuccessfully, in the last two legislative sessions.

McAllister says he decided the measure is needed after a man threatened him and his ambulance crew with a pistol at a shooting scene in 2012.

“Nationwide, EMS first responders are assaulted 700,000 times a year. McAllister said. “We are 30 times more likely to be assaulted than the general public, and we are seven times more likely to be murdered than any other health care professional in the line of duty.”

The bill sponsored by Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas met little resistance in the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday. A similar measure is pending in the House.

Huffines says paramedics, firefighters and others should be allowed to protect themselves if necessary.

The Houston Fire Department opposes the bill. Arson investigators, who are also certified police officers, are currently the only HFD employees allowed to carry firearms.

HFD Captain Ruy Lozano said the department opposes the bill because allowing medics and firefighters to carry weapons could slow response times if first responders had to stop and secure their firearms before going into restricted areas such as hospitals or burning buildings.

But McAllister says first responders across the state are already allowed to carry weapons if they possess a concealed handgun license, and their departments’ policy doesn’t prohibit going armed on duty, as HFD does.
“The public trusts us with their life. It only seems appropriate the public would trust us to defend our own lives.” McAllister said.

The senate bill would prohibit departments from restricting concealed carry if first-responders obtain a CHL, and undergo an extra 20 hours of firearm training, which would include tactical-response shooting and how to seek cover.

A similar bill championed by McAllister is currently under consideration in the Texas House. Three other bills by different authors have also been filed, which would allow first responders to openly carry firearms on duty, proposals that even McAllister opposes as being too dangerous.

A San Antonio group called Texas Gun Sense spoke against McAllister’s bill in Senate committee hearings.

Executive Director Andrea Brauer told Channel 2 News that the group supports keeping first responders safe, but that the Senate bill is “bad public policy,” and could increase the risk of accidental shootings.