People often ask me if a person who shoots someone should also get them medical help. I think the question is valid and worth thinking about.
If you help someone you inadvertently shot –
Let’s start with an unintentional shooting victim. Maybe the person you shot is a friend or family member, a stranger, or even you. In this situation, you must do what you can to help the person survive.
But couldn’t you be prosecuted if you try to help someone and they die?
The fear of being sued for trying to help someone survive shouldn’t be on your list of worries if you’ve just accidentally shot someone.
However, in general, Good Samaritan laws protect a person who rescues an injured person, provided that person does not do anything beyond his or her ability. For example, let’s say you didn’t accidentally shoot someone, but you want to rescue someone who’s been injured. If you injure the person while performing chest compressions, you should be fine.
But, if the person suffers an injury because you punched a hole in their throat and stuck a pen tube down their trachea because you saw it in a movie, you may have legal problems.
Again, Good Samaritan laws and civil lawsuits for helping someone you accidentally shot should be your least concern.
Should you help someone you shot in self-defense –
This situation is really what most people think of when they ask this question. The simple answer is that it depends.
But before answering the question, I want to give this advice.
Before you consider helping anyone, assess whether the scene is safe enough to do what you need to do.
For example, you may just need a free hand, a bit of cover, and a minute to apply a tourniquet. On the other hand, apply a chest seal or bandage; requires two hands and a bit more time and coverage.
Even if you have the know-how, it’s usually not wise to help someone you’ve just shot in self-defense. It’s not an absolute, but you can probably do more and stay safe by calling 911 and asking for paramedics and the police.
People don’t usually die immediately from low-velocity gunshot wounds like those fired from handguns. Instead, a victim with a gunshot wound may remain an imminent mortal threat for some time.
The injured person may no longer be an imminent threat, but still a potentially lethal threat. For example, the person may be down and not warrant more rounds, but still have a gun or other weapon. At that time, the person may not be an immediate lethal threat, but as you approach them, they may re-engage and become one.
Another consideration is that if you’re rushing to help, there may be a secondary threat that you haven’t seen. So while most of the time the adage “no honor among thieves” rings true and accomplices flee, it’s not a hard and fast rule. You don’t want to save your ass, just die to another bad guy as you try to render help.
The takeaway here is to keep scanning the area for additional threats, if any.
I don’t know how much weight I give to this next one, but here’s something I’ve heard others say in support of not helping. Not in all cases, but in some circumstances helping someone you’ve just shot might make you wonder if that person really posed an immediate lethal threat. Some may even perceive your assistance to the victim as an attempt to “fix a mistake”.
In any use of force, investigators single out your every action and compare it to all of the evidence. Aiding in the lawful use of deadly force will not tip the scales against your claim of self-defense. However, in questionable use of force, anything and everything is open to adverse interpretation.
I want to conclude by addressing a rationale for not providing assistance to someone you have shot that is morally and factually wrong.
I’ve heard people say, “the dead don’t tell tales” or “the dead don’t chase.” Please never use this as a justification for excessive force or avoid saving a life. First, the evidence is compelling and many of the people who killed their victims are in jail. Second, deceased persons do not press charges, but surviving family members often do. Fear of a trial is no justification for killing someone or hoping they die.
Whether or not you should help is irrelevant if you don’t have the equipment or ability to treat an injury. Many people carry Individual Ankle First Aid Kits (IFAKs) with their everyday weapons (EDCs). These IFAKs contain the essentials that you can use to potentially save a person’s life. Here is some additional information about what we think belongs in an IFAK. You can also check out the wealth of trauma care information available FREE on the medical mountain man website.