No, Kids Cannot Treat Each Others’ Gunshot Wounds, Either

A person taking a CPR class practices on a mannequin.
You really don’t have to be a healthcare professional to know that this won’t treat a gunshot wound. Photo credit

[Content note: descriptions of injuries and gun violence]

Yesterday[1] I discussed the phenomenon of adults expecting children to become impromptu school counselors for kids who are socially excluded and possibly planning a school shooting. Today I will talk about another job title that some actual people who are old enough to vote and drink alcohol expect children to take on: field medic.

Erstwhile Republican presidential candidate and professional stack-of-rats-in-a-suit Rick Santorum had some comments[2] about the young people organizing against gun violence, which I recommend reading out loud to yourself because that’s the only way I’ve found of making sense of this word salad:

How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that….They took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn’t take action to say, ‘How do I, as an individual, deal with this problem? How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to a shooter?’… Those are the kind of things where you can take it internally, and say, ‘Here’s how I’m going to deal with this. Here’s how I’m going to help the situation,’ instead of going and protesting and saying, ‘Oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.’ …I’m proud of them, but I think everyone should be responsible and deal with the problems that we have to confront in our lives. And ignoring those problems and saying they’re not going to come to me and saying some phony gun law is gonna solve it. Phony gun laws don’t solve these problems.

(You might need to read it a few times, slowly, before it makes any sense. Actually, it may never make sense at all.)

The salient points here are:

  • Children should stop complaining to adults about their petty little problems like being shot with assault weapons in schools, and instead “take action” to “do something” about it.
  • Taking a CPR class is a good response to the problem of school shootings.
  • Laws cannot protect children from violence.
  • Demanding that adults pass laws doesn’t count as “doing something” about a problem.

Although I’m still convinced that Santorum is a stack of rats in a suit–surely no human being could blame children for being insufficiently proactive about surviving gun violence–I’m going to respond to his arguments as if he is a human being. I’ll grant him that, even if he wouldn’t grant it to me, or to my teenage siblings.

To state the very, very obvious, CPR is not an appropriate response to a gunshot wound. I am certified in CPR and first aid. CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an emergency procedure (my god, I can’t believe I’m even having to write these words, what the fucking hell) that is useful in exactly one situation: when someone’s heart has stopped. Applying manual compressions to a person’s chest in this particular way can help blood continue to circulate through their body and reach their brain, increasing the chances that they’ll survive once they get prompt medical attention and reducing the chances of brain damage.

I will never forget the words of the fire department chief who facilitated my most recent CPR refresher training: “You can’t hurt someone by giving them CPR, because if their heart has stopped, they are already dead. You’re not gonna make them more dead.” CPR, while taught along with first aid in many cases, is different from many other first aid techniques in that if someone needs CPR, they are already minutes (or even seconds) away from death. CPR can ultimately fail even if administered perfectly because the body needs oxygen and it’s pretty rare for CPR to actually restart a stopped heart. It’s just a way to keep the person from really dying until the paramedics get there.

So, if you get trained in CPR, you will need to be prepared for the very real possibility that you will watch another human being die with your hands on them. That’s…you know, kind of a big deal.

But all of that is mostly irrelevant here because CPR will not keep someone from bleeding out from a gunshot wound. What will, if they’re lucky enough to have been shot in an arm or a leg, is a tourniquet, a first-aid technique that blocks blood flow to the injured part of the body to limit blood loss before the person can get emergency treatment. It’s not for the faint-hearted, whether you’re making or receiving one.

Getting trained and certified in CPR and first aid[3] is a great idea, including for young people. When I was a teenager, many of my friends worked as pool lifeguards during the summers and it definitely made me feel a bit safer to know that they were all trained in, well, guarding lives.

However, when I think about teenagers learning first aid, I imagine situations like, your friend stepped on a sharp object, or you got into a minor car crash, or someone forgot their EpiPen at marching band practice. I don’t think about mass shootings.

So let’s think about them now. If you found yourself sympathetic to Santorum’s comments, I want you to imagine yourself as a teenager, crouching beneath a tiny classroom desk with your best friend, who is bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound. More gunshots and screams are echoing in the halls. Your best friend is trembling, tears streaming down their face. Their blood is on your hands and clothing. You can’t risk getting up and finding a first aid kit, because then you might get shot too. You have a few minutes to save your best friend’s life with a tourniquet you made with a broken-off chair leg and someone’s belt.

Imagine surviving this. Imagine surviving it, but your best friend dies anyway, underneath that desk with you. Imagine that your best friend survives, but with permanent physical damage (to say nothing of the psychological impact). Imagine that your best friend survives, but the other classmate next to you dies, because you helped your best friend first. Imagine finding out later that you spent five valuable minutes performing CPR on someone who was never going to wake up anyway, while someone else bled out across the room from you.

Imagine that this is our lawmakers’ best answer to the fears of children who tell them they don’t want to die in their schools.

Kids and teens are capable of incredible acts of bravery and selflessness, including saving lives. But even after all this–by which I mean, our general political trajectory of the past decade or so–I can’t quite wrap my mind around how it is that a man with children (young children) could so blithely suggest inflicting such trauma on them rather than reckoning with the $116,000 he has received from pro-gun lobbyists since 1990.

See, this is why I’m pretty sure Santorum is a stack of rats in a suit.

But if you’re not buying that theory, I have another one, and it’s more depressing.

What do you think Santorum would’ve said if the Parkland students had, instead of advocating for greater restrictions on gun ownership, marched to their statehouse and to Washington, DC to demand fewer restrictions on gun ownership? What if they’d asked for laws that would provide guns and weapons training for teachers? Laws that would provide grant funding to the NRA so that it can do more of its valuable work? Laws that would increase, in theory, the likelihood that a “good guy with a gun” could take down a school shooter?

Somehow, I don’t think he’d be rebuking them for “asking someone to pass a law.” Those kids would be invited to speak at every GOP rally and fundraising event from Florida to Alaska. We wouldn’t be hearing a peep from conservatives about “coaching” and “taking political advice from kids.”

In other words, it’s just more of the same tribalist bullshit we’ve been pointing out since the election[4] and before, and it doesn’t smell any different.

When traumatized children demand political changes that are associated with Democrats and progressivism, it suddenly becomes okay for Santorum and others to bully them, ridicule their physical appearance, and casually suggest further traumatizing them by forcing them to literally take the problem of gun violence into their own hands. [5]

Memo to Santorum, or the rats which comprise his physical form, or whatever: “asking someone to pass a law” is taking action, especially when that someone is a fucking lawmaker tasked with keeping our schools and communities safe and when the person doing the asking is a fucking child who’s supposed to be able to rely on adults to keep them alive long enough to vote those adults the fuck out of public office.


[1] https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2018/03/25/please-do-not-walk-up-to-people-you-think-might-murder-you/

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/25/politics/rick-santorum-guns-cnntv/index.html

[3] https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class

[4] https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2016/12/27/hypocrisy-often-just-tribalism/

[5] Unfortunately, this is often the only option available to children of color living in areas marked by frequent gun violence. For example, in Chicago, a grassroots group called Ujimaa Medics teaches kids and teens to give first aid to gunshot victims. Remember that if we’re saying the Parkland students don’t deserve this kind of trauma, neither do the children of color all over the country who live it every day.


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No, Kids Cannot Treat Each Others’ Gunshot Wounds, Either
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