New W.Va. law arms tactical medics

A new law taking effect Wednesday allows tactical medical professionals to be armed when embedded with police operations.
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Dr. Leon Kwei is an emergency room physician with a passion for protecting law enforcement and, in part, thanks to him, a new law takes effect Wednesday.

“It allows professionals, medical professionals who are interested in helping protect our law enforcement in high-risk situations, that he or she would also be able to protect him or herself also and not be a liability,” he told WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

The concept, which Kwei took to his senator, will allow specially-trained medical professionals to carry firearms when they embed with SWAT teams.

The law, Senate Bill 83, is not a requirement, but gives the option to first responders.

Those wishing to participate must have buy-in from police and EMS, yet, WSAZ found not every EMS agency is pursuing the option.

Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry says his agency has and will continue to support various raids and high-risk police operations, yet arming a paramedic presents new concern.

“I think we’ll lose focus,” he said. “Our paramedics are trained to take care of the sick and injured, as I indicated, and I just feel that is their primary job. It’s not to engage the bad guy.”

Supporters say it’s important to recognize, the new law does not allow every paramedic to carry a weapon.

Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, stressed that point on the Senate floor in January. He was the legislation’s lead sponsor.

“It does not allow medical personnel -- doctors, nurses, etc. -- to just carry firearms into a hospital,” he told fellow lawmakers. “It does not allow EMS to carry firearms. This bill is specifically, only for those personnel who backing up law enforcement in a tactical situation.”

In a tense situation, Kwei says seconds count.

“If the scene is not what we call safe, regular EMS are not trained to go in to these situations, and the officer may be losing time,” he said.

Kwei is pursing a tactical medical professional position. He says some are already embedded with SWAT teams in West Virginia. He says the new law removes legal uncertainties involving the use of a firearm.

Senate Bill 83 also brings West Virginia in line with other states.