So you want to help a gunshot victim/classmate/music fan

81Nb0HK1dlL._SL1500_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. 

Fifty Ways to Punch a Nazi

I recently had a conversation with several Facebook friends about articles like this:

After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, many people are asking themselves what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they put their bodies on the line in counterdemonstrations? Some say yes. History says no. Take it from me: I study the original Nazis.

I’ve been getting similar advice from well-intentioned folks on Twitter. The more I hear these arguments warning against assertive counterprotest, the more they strike me as simplistic, judgmental, and unhelpful. Especially when they offer, as does this “History says no!” article, barely a gesture at alternatives.

In the first place: You know what it finally took to defeat the “original Nazis”? THREE FUCKING ALLIED ARMIES. Sure, non-violence works. Ask Neville Chamberlain.

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Alt-right Violence: Tactics and Responses

The far right is unquestionably escalating its violence against those who oppose their agenda of racism, sexism, and fascism. I’m not going to waste your time with cautions about the legal or ethical perils of physical violence. I’ll assume you are all adults and you wouldn’t be interested in damaging people’s bodies unless your own life and physical safety were under attack. Nor will I digress here with thoughts on the limits of nonviolence, or the propensity of privileged white people to demand wholly nonviolent activism, while ignoring the impact of structural violence on non-white, non-privileged people. Maybe in another post. My purpose is simply to alert people to the process by which the alt-right tends to escalate “protest” into mass assault, and provide a few basic ideas for reducing injury to oneself is such a situation.

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Update on Police De-escalation Dialogue

mayor-clipart-COV_Cop_clipArtFor those of you who signed our letter to APD, here’s the email I sent today to every member of the Austin City Council, plus the Mayor:

Dear [Council Member or Mayor X],


On January 2nd, I sent the attached letter, co-signed by 31 Austin community members, to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The letter requests some information, and an open dialogue, on the type and amount of de-escalation training APD officers receive.

As of today, we have received no reply to this letter. As the letter states, we feel that the issue of police use of force is an important one for our community, and we believe that an open conversation on this topic will help us collaboratively reduce violence and build mutual trust among all Austinites. We are asking for your help in encouraging Chief Acevedo and the Austin Police Department to respond to our initial requests for information, and begin a conversation on a topic that is becoming increasingly important nationally as well as locally.

Thank you for all you do to help keep Austin a safe and just place to live.


Susan Schorn

The body and signatories of the original letter were appended.

I’ll keep people apprised of any response. Our next level of amplification will be contacting local media, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly soul-enriching activity, but we’ll do it if necessary.

Take Action: De-escalation query letter for local law enforcement

In light of recent events, I’m gathering signatures on a letter that will go to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, asking about the amount and type of de-escalation training our local police receive. This is the first step in what I hope will be a public conversation about police training and tactics, and their role in community violence. I’m convinced that the lack of high-quality training in de-escalation skills is a big factor in excessive-force incidents involving police. Insufficient training in this area places officers as well as citizens at risk; thus, police departments that don’t take de-escalation training seriously are demonstrating a failure of leadership.

If you’d like to take local action to reduce violence involving law enforcement officials, please feel free to use this letter as a model.

NB: I’ve created this post, on my web site, for people interested in pressing for good quality de-escalation training for law enforcement personnel. If you don’t think that’s an appropriate course of action–for whatever reason–go write about your feelings on your own website. Do not post your opinions here. Any comments that I feel do not promote healthy discussion will be summarily deleted–though I reserve the right to screenshot them in draft form in order to publicly humiliate the poster on social media if I see fit.

To: Art Acevedo, Chief of Police
Austin Police Department
715 E. Eighth St.
Austin, TX 78701

Dear Chief Acevedo,

We write to you in a spirit of collaboration, hoping to open a dialogue about how we can reduce violence in the community where we all live and work.

In the wake of recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; New York City; and elsewhere in the United States, we have grown increasingly concerned about the frequent use of force by law enforcement personnel. In many cases, police seem to use lethal force when it is not warranted. Too often, this has led to tragic results.

The Austin Police Department itself was, as recently as 2011, investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice; we understand that one of the resulting recommendations from the DOJ involved identifying training issues that would minimize the use of force by APD personnel. We are concerned that police officers across the country, and in our own community, receive inadequate training and practice in de-escalation methods. In an effort to understand how the Austin Police Department prepares its officers for the responsible use of force while on duty, we are seeking  the following information:

How many hours of training, initially and continuing, do APD officers receive in the following areas:

Firearms – We would like to know what initial training is required before officers are permitted to carry a firearm on duty, the minimum training and practice required in order for them to continue carrying their firearm, and the amount and type of training they typically receive in addition to that minimum.

Non-lethal force – Tasers, beanbags, pepper spray, etc. Again: How are officers initially prepared to use these methods, and how much regular practice and training do they receive thereafter?

De-escalation tactics – Again, we are interested in both initial and recurring training in crisis intervention, recognizing mental health issues, tactical disengagement (non-intervention), specific verbal de-escalation tactics, physical de-escalation tactics (e.g., non-confrontational body language), active listening, and related skills.

We are particularly interested in the amount of dedicated, scenario-based practice time officers receive for each area. If force option simulators are used, we would also like to know the ratio of violent to non-violent outcomes they are programmed to simulate.

We are seeking this information not in order to provoke confrontation or to cast blame. Rather, we genuinely seek to understand how the men and women who are charged with protecting our lives and property are prepared for that important and difficult work. We feel that an informed, respectful conversation on this topic is the best way to achieve our common goal of public safety.


Susan Schorn
Austin, Texas