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Bill would give Md. firefighters, EMTs right to bear arms

Beretta handguns for sale in 2013 at FreeState Gun Range in Middle River. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz - FILE)

Beretta handguns for sale in 2013 at FreeState Gun Range in Middle River. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Firefighters and paramedics should be permitted to carry handguns without having to individually prove to the Maryland State Police they have a “good and substantial reason” to possess the weapons because they face a personal threat, first responders and a gun rights advocate told a Senate panel Wednesday.

“We should not actually have to suffer an attack or prove actual documented threats in order to secure a (handgun) permit for our own personal protection,” said Kim Tull, an Ocean City firefighter and paramedic. “I believe this is a reasonable request given the potential harm that we face to protect and serve our communities.”

Tull told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that ambulances make tempting targets for drug dealers and addicts because the vehicles carry narcotics. Tull said she has been assaulted and threatened during her more than 25-year-career.

Eric Borneman, a lieutenant with the Ocean City fire department, said first responders are exposed to physical and verbal threats “all the time” and the danger is “not limited to just when we’re on duty” in high-crime neighborhoods.

Carrying a handgun would provide much needed security and be used only as a “last resort” by the firefighters and paramedics dedicated to saving lives, not taking them, Borneman told the Senate committee.

“No one hopes to eagerly use this as a line of defense, but that defense mechanism should be available to us if the situation warranted,” Borneman said.

Tull and Borneman spoke in support of Senate Bill 826, which would create a presumption that individuals in the “high-risk occupations” of firefighter, emergency medical technician and rescue squad member have a good and substantial reason for being armed without having to make an affirmative showing of necessity to the Maryland State Police.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, the bill’s chief sponsor, said permitting firefighters and paramedics to be armed would give them “security and the ability to protect themselves in high-risk environments.”

“I would like to give them as much protection as possible,” Carozza, R-Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico, told the Senate Committee.

“These front-line heroes should not have to actually suffer an attack or prove actual documented threats in order to secure a permit for personal protection,” she said. “We should support our front-line public safety professionals working for us in these high-risk occupations and allow them to protect themselves.”

Sen. Michael A. Jackson, a committee member, voiced some reservation about permitting first responders to carry a weapon off duty without showing a good and substantial reason or on-duty when a weapon is not needed to perform those duties.

“Carrying a weapon on duty is pretty much part of the uniform of the public service” said Jackson, D- Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert. “I am not, like, openly opposed to the off-duty carry. I do have an issue, for the record, with anyone other than part of your duties to carry a weapon while on duty.”

Mark W. Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, said firefighters and paramedics should fall into a “presumed-risk category” because they “face real risks” on and off the job that should entitle them to carry a handgun to protect themselves.

“Everybody has the right to self-defense,” Pennak told the committee.

S.B. 826 has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates. Del. Wayne A. Hartman, R-Wicomico and Worcester, is chief sponsor of House Bill 538.

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