John Shriek, WXIA
ATLANTA -- It has been nine months since a man in Gwinnett County
lured five firefighters into his home by faking a possible heart attack,
and, knowing they were not armed, took them all hostage at gunpoint.
The police SWAT team was able to rescue the firefighters, shooting and killing the gunman.
Some Georgia state legislators believe that incident is key evidence
in support of their efforts to authorize firefighters, statewide, to
carry their own firepower while out on calls.
Rep. Kevin Cooke, (R), Carrollton, introduced a bill Thursday, called House Bill 807,
co-signed by several other House members, to permit firefighters to
carry firearms while on duty, if they wish, and if they have the
permission of their superior officers.
Critics say the bill, if passed into law, would cause more problems than it would solve.
Supporters say the need is ever-present.
"I just think it's overkill," said Sen. Vincent Fort, (D), Atlanta,
on Thursday. "Of course I'm concerned with [the firefighters'] safety.
If there's a pattern of situations where firefighters are at risk, then
yes. But I don't think we're at that point, now.... When people see
firefighters, they're almost always glad to see them coming, because a
firefighter means help. Arming firefighters will provide a distraction
to their core functions, protecting people and serving the public."
"I think that anybody that has to be in public should be allowed to
defend themselves anywhere they go," said Jerry Henry of
GeorgiaCarrry.org. "This is a dangerous world. Firefighters are no
different.... We have never said that everybody should be armed, we say
that everybody should have the right to decide whether they want to be
armed, or not. If they don't feel comfortable, don't do it. But if you
feel uncomfortable, if you think that there are things like [the
Gwinnett County hostage-taking] going to happen -- that happened once in
how many, a hundred years or so? But guess what? Maybe it's going to
happen again. And you don't want to be the guy that walks in there
unarmed and at that guy's mercy."
In Gwinnett County, where the firefighters were taken hostage last
year, Fire Chief Casey Snyder sent an email to 11Alive News on Thursday
stating that he has no plans to allow his firefighters to arm themselves
while they're on duty, even if the legislature passes this bill:
"The Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services has no
knowledge of the content of House Bill 807 nor did we participate in
the writing of the bill. Regardless of the outcome, the department has
no plans to change its current procedures. Anyone seeking information
should contact the individuals or agencies responsible for the
development of the bill."