Opinion

Should volunteers bring guns to disaster sites? | The Firearms Lawyer

Some Federal Way residents have devoted our evenings and weekends preparing for earthquakes, fire, WMD attacks or other disasters.

One of the primary ways to get ready is to attend CERT training.

Community Emergency Response Teams obtain first-aid skills, learn how to use fire extinguishers and practice other skills like prioritizing assistance to victims and communicating with professionals. The professionals that normally respond to criminal activity, fires or other hazards may become totally overwhelmed by the damage that occurs to people, structures and communication networks when disaster strikes.

The aftermath of a major event causes shock and other physical symptoms that impair every one of us to some degree. Preparation for civil defense is normally presented in terms of responding to the aftermath rather than preventing an event. Professional police officers, medical personnel and other emergency responders know that it will take many volunteers in order to deal with events like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, or the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

One of our CERT instructors, a firefighter, said that only the police (and presumably military personnel as well) should have guns at a “crime scene.” If you show up as an armed CERT volunteer with a gun, your weapon could be confiscated and you should expect never to be on a CERT team again. And the “crime scene” could include most of South King County (shades of Katrina style gun confiscation). Nevertheless, another firefighter told me, off the record, that many firefighters packed during the L.A. riots.

To the horror of honest citizens everywhere (and as predators watched in glee during the days following Katrina), New Orleans authorities entered homes and re-victimized honest gun owners by confiscating guns. It took an NRA lawsuit to get the guns returned to the owners. Rape, looting and violence at the same time as homes were searched for weapons caused lawmakers in many states to enact laws that say, “Don’t confiscate guns when needed most to protect innocent lives.”

House Bill 1832 provides that Washingtonians not be deprived of our right to bear arms during an emergency. Just because many other states have recently enacted such legislation, don’t expect to see such safeguards for gun owners reported out of committee soon.

It could be dangerous having volunteers showing up at a “crime scene” with guns. Imagine how things could have gotten out of hand when tactical teams spread out through Mumbai killing and taking hostages. The shooters successfully targeted law enforcement. Untrained volunteers might have responded by harming themselves or others. Volunteers should leave the professionals to deal with terrorists.

If you are a CERT member and local police officers are lying dead in the streets, would you consider showing up with a gun? If you are law enforcement, would you be inclined to confiscate my weapon if I can provide backup? Make firearms training an optional component of CERT training. Then volunteers can be even more helpful to the professionals if things really get out of control.

I have had as much or more formal gun training in the classroom and on the range than many experienced law enforcement officers. But I decided to miss the final CERT drill rather than forego the chance to get additional AR-15 (an assault rifle) range time at our Civilian Marksmanship Program rifle practice.

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