With the toll from mass shootings on the rise in the US, Congress has yet to coalesce around any kind of solution, and so some members have turned to providing training sessions to teach Capitol Hill staffers how to prevent victims from bleeding out.
A hundred staffers have signed up to participate in Stop the Bleed sessions Monday, filling the sessions to capacity. They’re workshops taking place in the capital of a nation where gun violence has dominated headlines and has also hit close to home; the first anniversary of the shooting at a Republican baseball practice is Thursday.
Multiple people were shot last June while Republican members were preparing for the annual congressional baseball game. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and lobbyist Matt Mika were both critically injured, and both their lives were saved because of the quick advanced medical techniques used to treat their wounds. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a doctor who served as a medic in the Iraq War, saved Scalise’s life by applying a tourniquet high and tight on his thigh after Scalise was shot.
Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, who was present during the shooting, told BuzzFeed News he participated in a training session after his wife, who is a nurse, asked him what he would have done if it had been on him to help the shooting victims on the baseball field last year.
“If I would have been the only one on the field with Steve Scalise a year ago, I would not have known how to pack that wound. But it took me less than ten minutes going to training, here at the Capitol … to figure out how to pack that wound and possibly save a life,” Davis told BuzzFeed News.
Scalise, who continues physical therapy as a result of the shooting and recently made his first appearance back on the baseball field, also attended a training himself.
“Had Congressman Brad Wenstrup, a combat-trained doctor, not been on the baseball field the morning of the shooting to correctly apply a tourniquet to Whip Scalise’s wounds, the Whip would not have survived,” said Lauren Fine, a spokesperson for Scalise, in a statement. “That’s why the Stop the Bleed program is so important to the Whip, so we can ensure as many people as possible are trained with the methods and tools to stop life-threatening bleeding in emergency situations so more lives are saved.”
The trainings Monday will be hosted by the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a House Democratic initiative focused on the congressional debate around guns, with the idea that people should be prepared to respond when shootings happen if Congress can’t pass significant gun control legislation.
“There are too many shootings. One would be too many, but there’s way too many shootings these days. And it seemed to me a good idea to make sure people had the knowledge as to what happens if they are in such a situation,” California Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
The classes are compared to learning CPR: quick to learn, and a concept that should be universal.
“A brief ‘Stop the Bleed’ class can instruct members of the public how [to] control bleeding using tools and techniques that were born on the battlefields of Vietnam and validated in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. By using your hands to apply pressure to a wound, civilians can become immediate responders in a traumatic event and potentially save a life,” Thompson said in a Dear Colleague letter sent out last week inviting members and their staff to sign up.
Last fall, just a few months after the baseball shooting, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are doctors also hosted a Stop the Bleed training.
Wenstrup, one of the members who took part in hosting Stop the Bleed trainings in October, noted to BuzzFeed News that these techniques can be used for more than just bullet injuries.
“It’s really just a matter of trying to empower as many people as you can to do things that can help save lives when you least expect yourself to be in that situation,” Wenstrup, a Republican, said. “It’s all about buying time till the next phase [of treatment], right? It’s about, how do we sustain you longer?”
California Rep. Raul Ruiz, a doctor who cohosted the Stop the Bleed training alongside Wenstrup, told BuzzFeed News that he also had a separate training done for his office following conversations with his staff about the congressional baseball shooting.
“There’s no doubt that every single staff member in Capitol Hill has thought about the possibility of a shooting or some targeted violence to their member or their office, so it helps relieve anxiety and fear if you’re at least equipped and trained in knowing how to handle a situation like that,” Ruiz said about one of the reasons they decided to hold the training.
Thompson said he hopes to do another round of trainings in the future with a Republican cohost. Asked if Republican staff plan to participate in Monday’s trainings, Thompson said “some” are. The trainings are open to all lawmakers and staff, but no lawmakers are expected to participate because the trainings fall on a day when many of them will be out of town.
“We should be able to be equipped as lay people to handle any bleeding that we encounter in the community or in our homes, regardless of the cause,” Ruiz said. “It’s unfortunate, and it’s a very sad state of America that we have to come to prepare for a mass shooting in our neighborhoods, but it’s the reality of the situation.”
According to its website, the Stop the Bleed program’s goal is to “train every American in basic bleeding control techniques” and place bleeding control kits in every public venue, citing schools as an example. A 2018 progress report states that, as of March 15, more than 124,000 people have been trained through the program in the United States. The program was launched in the fall of 2015, a result of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Congress has not passed any significant gun control measures in recent years. Already in 2018, there have been multiple school shootings, as well as nationwide protests demanding congressional action, including the March for Our Lives, which was organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
In March, Congress included two modest gun-related measures in legislation that will keep the government funded through the end of September. The first allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. The second, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, was designed to provide money to state law enforcement in exchange for contributing more information to the federal background check registry.