Paramedics in North Carolina could be permitted to carry concealed weapons when assisting in tactical law enforcement emergencies if House Bill 48 garners enough support from state lawmakers.
The bill received a favorable report Wednesday afternoon in a House Judiciary Committee meeting after a lively conversation between lawmakers.
Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat, said she received a lot of emails in opposition to the bill.
"One of the concerns I heard was that, 'How do they know whether you're going to be plugging holes up in people who got shot or putting holes in people," Butler said.
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence spoke out Monday night in an email calling House Bill 48 "unbelievable."
The group said paramedics' only focus should be on providing medical care, and knowing that a paramedic could be armed may cause further distrust in patients who need care.
Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican who sponsored the bill, said Wednesday during the meeting that he has not heard any opposition.
Warren told the committee that the bill came at the request of a paramedic in his district who is embedded with a SWAT team. He said he filed similar legislation last year but it ended up in a gun bill that didn't make it past the Senate.
Senators filed Senate Bill 134 Tuesday afternoon, which mirrors the language from House Bill 48.
Warren added that the bill does not give blanket permission for a paramedic to carry a concealed weapon on duty but only applies to those who work in a tactical situation and who have gone through extensive training.
Warren said the bill's intent is to give paramedics the ability to defend themselves if they're performing life-saving measures on a person and find themselves under fire.
"We trust these people with our lives," Warren said. "We trust them to administer help for the people who need it, at a time they need it the most. I think we can trust them to make those right calls when they're under a situation."
Warren said lawmakers owe paramedics that trust.
Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake County Democrat, asked why the weapon needed to be concealed and not carried openly. He was told the visible weapon could make a paramedic a target.
Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, told The News & Observer the bill has his support based on his experiences as a volunteer firefighter in Lincoln County. He said some of the calls he has been on have been "scary."
"You get miscommunications or mentally disabled folks, and I could see why that would work or why folks in those situations would feel safer," Saine said of the bill.
Saine said the only downside he can find in having paramedics carrying concealed weapons is that the weapon could be turned on them. He said that's why training is important.
"I think the real stress point is to make sure those folks are very well trained before they're allowed to (conceal carry in tactical emergencies) because of the intensity of those situations," Saine said.
The bill requires paramedics who conceal carry to complete approved tactical medical assistance courses.
Those courses must be taught by instructors from the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission or the National Rifle Association, according to the bill.
The bill also mandates that the courses must be sponsored by one of those two organizations or a law enforcement agency, a college or a firearms training school.
"That's real that emotions run high in these situations, so having that will be necessary to say, OK, you can carry but let's make sure folks have some training and background in the law," Saine said.
But Martin wasn't completely convinced that the training was good enough.
"The way I read the bill it would allow the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission, if they wanted to, to set up lesser requirements for the EMTs to conceal carry," Martin said.
Martin said without the same standards of training as law enforcement allowing paramedics to conceal carry may "end up causing more trouble than it's worth."