I hate using films and TV as a reference, but there are so many mistakes and oversights made when it comes to firearms that it is hard to resist. In one drama, a cop, injured in an accident, was wheeled into the emergency room. His Beretta fell to the floor, and everyone save the main protagonist seemed oblivious to the gun laying there unattended. The fellow armed himself and took the hospital’s staff hostage. Granted, that was a simple plot device. But the point is that it isn’t beyond the imagination that someone could — in fact, should — take control of your firearm after an accident.
We’re not talking about a shooting aftermath here; there is a different set of rules in that instance. We’re talking about securing your gun during a medical emergency. Vehicle accidents and falls off of bikes are much more common than self-defense shootings. Therefore, a basis for procedure should be understood and mapped out. In most police agencies and among emergency personnel, there are such procedures. Responsibly armed Americans should have them in place too.
Looking After Your Gun
Some 30 years ago, I was injured in an explosion that left me badly burned but not unconscious. As I was being whisked into the ambulance, I spotted a deputy sheriff and asked him to take my snub-nosed .38 and ankle holster and give them to my wife. I was in plain clothes and not engaged in police work, but he knew me slightly. All went well in this case. On another occasion, I was injured on the job and, while conscious, was a bit out of it. My chief took control of my gun belt. (The only time I have been handcuffed in my life was when a fellow officer secured me to the gurney as I tired of waiting for medical attention at the hospital.)
An officer finding his way into a hospital still armed with a gun on his belt but unconscious is very unlikely. An armed private citizen, however, is a different matter. The officer, ambulance driver or attending doctor may not know you are armed. If you are armed and conscious, you simply must have someone secure the gun, so be certain to inform law enforcement or EMS that you are carrying. This is very important, since they will be responsible for securing the firearm before anything “Hollywood” can happen.
I reached out to a state trooper in the family and asked about modern procedures when it comes to securing a citizen’s firearm during a medical emergency. He works in a busy district, and the state has a high percentage of concealed carry permit holders.
He revealed that the individuals with whom he’s dealt were in wrecks and were either injured or needed to go to the hospital to be checked out. Depending on the seriousness of a person’s injuries, procedure calls for the person in control of the firearm to unload it or for the trooper to remove the gun. Then the trooper secures the firearm in his or her cruiser. Time and injury impact the steps, but typically the trooper takes the firearm, gets as much information as possible and documents the transfer with a receipt. The make, model and — most importantly — serial number are recorded. Since this isn’t a common occurrence, but neither rare, the firearm is recorded on the tow inventory.
Whenever a vehicle must be towed in the wake of an accident, the trooper records the license tag and driver’s information. (The driver is given a copy of the tow slip as well.) The tow inventory is a document that basically details everything inside the vehicle. As an example, if the driver is injured and there are Christmas presents, a laptop or hunting gear in the vehicle, it is documented. The tow slip includes information concerning the towing service, the location and when the vehicle may be retrieved. Most states provide that the driver may recover all personal property from the vehicle before the tow bill is paid, although the tow lot may keep the vehicle until it is.
Therefore, it would be a bad idea to secure the firearm in the vehicle. Remember that if the firearm isn’t included on the tow receipt, then no one is responsible for it. If a family member arrives later and the injured driver indicates he or she may secure the firearm, policy allows the firearm to be given to this family member.
It’s worth mentioning that having the gun taken into custody by law officers isn’t the same as being taken into custody pursuant to an arrest — as long as the firearm is legally owned and carried. An officer who makes an arrest may search the vehicle involved, including the dash and under the seat, for his or her own safety. A search isn’t the same as a tow inventory. If something is found missing at a later date, it is in your interest to have a complete tow report. If not, you do not have a leg to stand on if something is later found missing.
A Loose Gun
There have been incidents in which a law officer lost his or her firearm in the wake of a collision. The firearm did not fly out a window, but it jumped around in the vehicle and found its way under the seat. Carrying the pistol in the waistband or in a poorly designed holster could easily result in the firearm falling out of the waistband, which presents a danger to all involved.
Before concealed carry permits, it was common for citizens to keep a handgun in the glove box (legal in my state) or on the seat (which was not legal in my state, but legal just across the border in the next state). Neither is ideal. On-seat carry is a poor choice. Some jurisdictions outlaw under-the-seat carry, which is a dangerous situation for all concerned.
The ‘Bus Ride’
A friend who is an EMS chief stated that the EMS policy he follows is to immediately call the police if a gun is found. They don’t let anything interfere with getting a victim to the hospital. They may transport the firearm in a different part of the ambulance if needed. Knives are transported in another part of the vehicle, while guns are always secured and handed over to police.
He mentioned that EMS workers often feel threatened. For example, during a recent response, they found an unresponsive individual at the scene of a single-vehicle collision. During the initial evaluation, EMS found a gunshot wound to his chest. A vehicle had been idling nearby and spun away abruptly. This fellow was later identified as the shooter. On another occasion, this EMS team responded to a call of an unconscious individual. As they began to examine the man, he jerked abruptly awake and pulled a gun, only to pass out again. They quickly secured his firearm.
Speaking of which, EMS makes no determination of legality when it comes to firearms. This is also the case for drugs. They do not know whether any drugs they find are illegal and do not expend any energy on trying to ascertain as much since that information isn’t pertinent to saving a life. They will hand on-person property — firearm or otherwise — over to the police and let them make that determination, then move on to their next call.
Have a Plan
I sent messages to two small towns near me to inquire about their policies for securing firearms during medical emergencies. One did not reply, and the other responded that this topic has never come up. Procedure will differ depending on where you live, and it would be worth your while to ask around a bit on the subject.
Hopefully you will never be in a situation in which EMS response will be a factor, but you should have a plan in place just in case. Be certain your holster is properly secured to your belt and that it offers good retention. And if you are ever injured, be certain to inform law enforcement that you are armed as soon as possible. Doing so can save you a lot of time and trouble and keep those trying to assist you safe.