If you, like millions of unwitting Americans, are a habitual risk-taker who regularly defies death by attending concerts or going to nightclubs or walking across your college campus to get to class, you’ve probably wondered, “What should I do if I’m minding my own business, trying to live a normal life, and someone gets shot?”
Since we, as a nation, have allowed the NRA to shut down all discussion of how to prevent people from being shot, here are three products you can buy, carry, and use to save lives if—hell, let’s go ahead and say when—someone in your vicinity is shot.
Standard disclaimers: My EMT certification lapsed years ago, I’m not providing this advice as any kind of a medical professional, and this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It’s the simplest set of options that I find feasible to carry with me on a regular basis. I’m not endorsing any of the products I’m linking to; I carry some of them but have not (yet) used them in trauma situations.
This is where I would be expected to remind you to wear latex gloves when using the products below, but you know what? If you’re involved in a shooting, there’s going to be blood fucking everywhere and it’s going to get on you. Buy gloves if you want; you’ll still need to clean up with bleach and water when it’s all over.
Also, remember that the first thing to do in a shooting is to get out of danger.
1. Occlusive dressing: If someone is shot (or stabbed, or otherwise punctured) in the chest, you need to prevent air from entering through the wound. Air in the chest cavity can cause pneumothorax, a.k.a. lung collapse, or tension pneumothorax, where air accumulating in the chest cavity compresses the opposite lung, the heart, and the major veins. As my EMT textbook says, “Death can occur rapidly.” You can use literally any air-tight material to seal a chest wound, even a plastic bag. Don’t worry if it’s not sterile; whatever caused the wound has already introduced plenty of bacteria. You’ll also need to make sure air can escape from the chest, which is why commercial dressings are preferable (if you’re improvising, you have to lift one edge of the dressing during exhalation). Here’s a 2-pack of chest seals for $16.79 on Amazon that automatically allow air to escape, but not enter, the wound. It’s a small package, easily carried in a backpack or purse. A 2-pack is handy for gunshot situations, because you can cover the entry and exit wounds.
Oh yeah, remember to check for exit wounds.
2. Hemostatic agents: Yes, you need to apply pressure to stop bleeding, but for gunshot wounds you’ll likely need more than that. There are now multiple commercial products that cause blood to clot quickly. You can buy gauze that packs into a wound, or injectors that shove absorbent pellets into a deep puncture. Sponges and powders are also available. Buy whichever product you can carry most easily—that way you’re more likely to have it when needed. Pro tip: Read the directions ahead of time.
3. Tourniquets. You may have learned to use these in scouts, you may have heard since then that they aren’t safe and shouldn’t be used at all. If bleeding can’t be controlled by direct pressure, use one. Any problems that arise from tourniquet use can be dealt with at the hospital; they are less serious than the problem of bleeding to death. You can improvise tourniquets, using material that’s fairly wide—4″ is recommended, but commercial tourniquets are cheap, simple to use, and easy to carry.
I also recommend taking a basic first aid course, and a good self defense course (preferably taught from the empowerment model).
And of course, fuck the NRA.