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Understanding the LEOSA Qualification Process

Officers and agencies working to fulfill Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act qualifications should keep the process simple.

May 03, 2018  |  by Glen Hoyer

LEOSA lets qualified officers and retired officers carry nationwide. (Photo: Getty Images)
LEOSA lets qualified officers and retired officers carry nationwide. (Photo: Getty Images)

We as law enforcement officers can do one thing very well: take something simple and complicate it. It isn't our fault, as we spent a career being careful in our investigations and arrests to make sure we crossed every "t" and dotted every "i."

LEOSA is a really simple law. But we have managed to take that simple law and complicate it because we believe that it is the right thing to do. It is important to keep some records and keep them accurately, but why should we keep records we do not need, or make things harder than they should be?

LEOSA has two segments. One is for active duty officers while traveling outside of their jurisdiction. The second section is for "Qualified Retired Law Enforcement Officers." I am going to concentrate on how an agency should handle the retired officer qualification, records keeping, and other issues involved in maintaining LEOSA rights for retired officers, as the active duty requirements are not confusing.

Issuing Credentials

One requirement of the law is that an officer must have credentials indicating he or she is a "Qualified Retired Law Enforcement Officer." The unfortunate aspect of this is that the law does not require an agency to issue the needed credentials. If your agency has chosen not to issue credentials, there isn't much you can do.

With that being said, there isn't liability to an agency who issues retired credentials, as the agency is not stating the retired officer is a good guy. It is merely a declaration of fact that the officer worked at the agency.

Agencies can create problems for themselves when they go beyond what the law requires. If an agency issues credentials and it wants to conduct background checks periodically on its retirees, the agency creates tremendous liability for itself by conducting follow-ups that are not required.

It is recommended that the language on the credentials be simple and straight-forward. Obviously the Qualified Retired Law Enforcement Officer's photo must appear and the agency's name and state. Language to the effect of:

"THIS IS TO CERTIFY __(Name)______ whose signature and photograph appear hereon, as a Qualified Retired Officer (Or Deputy Sheriff, Trooper, etc.) from the (Name of the department), who meets the definition of Qualified Retired Law Enforcement Officer, as provided in the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, as amended, and passed by the United States Congress."

The credential should also include the officer's and the sheriff's or chief's signature.

Again, this is a direct statement of fact and only what the law requires.

The law allows an agency to either issue a credential and qualification card as a combined card, or the cards can be separate. I highly recommend you only issue separate cards, one being the credential, the other card the proof of qualification. The retired officer must qualify once a year and so that card has a date. The credential does not have a date. Not to mention that the officer may move out of state and be qualifying under another state's protocol. When that happens having the cards combined is problematic.


LEOSA requires that retired officers have proof they have qualified within the last year with the same "type" of firearm. "Type" is not defined in the LEOSA law; however, if you look up the definition in the same code section, it is defined as handgun, rifle, or shotgun.

Nowhere in the law does it say handgun, pistol, or revolver. It only says "firearm." This indicates that under LEOSA you can carry a firearm—not restricted to a handgun—of the same type you qualified with.

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

What type of course of fire should be utilized? The law states, "…been tested or otherwise found by the agency to meet the active duty standards for qualification in firearms training as established by the agency to carry a firearm of the same type as the concealed firearm…".

The phrase "the active duty standards for qualification" leaves it open for the agency to determine the appropriate course of fire. Many agencies have several courses of fire such as the uniformed duty course of fire, one for secondary/back-up guns, off-duty, and other situations.

Why not use the off-duty or back-up gun course of fire? As a retired officer you are no longer a law enforcement officer, you are a well-trained citizen being afforded a privilege by federal law. Why treat the retired officer's qualification as if they are still active duty? I would suggest you use an appropriate course of fire such as the active duty standard for off-duty firearms. Off-duty courses of fire are typically geared toward closer engagements and smaller sized firearms, which fits with a retired officer's situation.

If you are not able to qualify with the agency you retired from, then you can qualify under the protocol established by the state in which you live. If your state has not set up a protocol and your agency does not qualify its retired officers or you live in a different state now, the law says, "...or by a certified firearms instructor that is qualified to conduct a firearms qualification test for active duty officers within that State that indicates that the individual has, not less than 1 year before the date the individual is carrying the concealed firearm, been tested or otherwise found by the State or a certified firearms instructor that is qualified to conduct a firearms qualification test for active duty officers within that State to have met—"

In simple terms, any certified firearms instructor who can administer an active law enforcement qualification by state standards can qualify you in your state if a protocol has not been established.

If you qualify a retired officer you are merely administering a test, you are not training an active officer. You are the proctor (instructor) of the test (qualification); your job is to administer it and score the results. You are not incurring liability as long as that is all you are doing, as that is what the law requires. Agencies and instructors get into trouble when they want to do more such as providing instruction on shooting techniques or require the officers to qualify on multiple courses like decision making, "shoot-don't-shoot," or low light. The law requires a qualification "test," not tests.

If you are concerned about liability with the qualification consider this: When your state DMV gives you a driver's test and you pass, it issues you a driver's license. If you have an accident that is your fault, your state DMV cannot be sued because it administered a test that you passed and then gave you a license.

What should the qualification card look like? The law requires the qualification be within the last 12 months, so the date of the qualification is necessary. You may consider having the name of the agency, organization or state that it is issued under.

Although it should have the "type" of firearm that was used in the qualification, I would not have any more information, as it is not required by the law. This is where law enforcement gets wrapped around the axle by recording information that is not required by the law.

Many firearm instructors or ranking officers will say, "Well how do we know you are carrying the gun you qualified with?" My response is, "Who cares?" They don't work for you anymore and you are not responsible for them.

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The law does not require that you carry the same firearm you qualified with, so do not make record of what the officer qualified with. The officer could qualify with a revolver and carry a semi-automatic, as it is the same "type" (a handgun) of firearm. If an officer is not carrying the gun he or she qualified with there is nothing you can do. The officer doesn't work for you anymore.

Think of the qualification card as a driver's license. The license doesn't restrict you to driving only the vehicle you drove during the test. It permits you to operate any vehicle of that class (type).

Keeping Records

Law enforcement officers are trained to record every bit of information when they investigate a crime. They understand a chain of custody and they know they may be grilled on the witness stand over how they recorded the evidence. I suggest that we not record useless information for LEOSA, as it isn't required. This is a concept that many in law enforcement have a difficult time understanding.

In several states, any NRA Certified Law Enforcement Firearm Instructor can administer the LEOSA qualification to any retired officer who lives in the state. Virginia, for example, made it very easy by setting up a simple protocol. The instructor who qualifies the retired officer issues the card with Virginia stipulating what must be on the card. Is this something your state could do?

It is the retired officer's responsibility to have proper credentials. If an officer is not legally able to carry a firearm under LEOSA, then it's his or her problem to deal with.
Here are some record-keeping considerations.

First, do not record the score the retired officers fired. All that is important is that the retired officers passed the qualification. You, the firearms instructor, administered a test, the retired officers passed, and you reflect that by issuing that retired officer a qualification card. Now, many will be thinking, "How will you prove the retired officer passed the qualification?" Simple: you gave him or her a qualification card. After all, do you have your DMV driver's test score, or is your driver's license proof you passed the drivers' test? Have a Pass/Fail scoring system on the appropriate "active duty course of fire" for off-duty or back-up guns.

Second, do not record the firearm the retired officer qualified with. It is not required by the law to carry the firearm you qualified with. The law requires that it be the same "type" of firearm (remember, rifle, handgun or shotgun), not the same one. So, why record anything but the fact it was a handgun, rifle, or a shotgun. Additionally, if the retired officers are not carrying the gun they qualified with, what can you do about it? They do not work for you anymore, so you can't punish them.

I would have a simple application where the retired officers affirm by signature that they meet the requirements to carry a firearm under LEOSA and reside in the state or are qualifying with the agency they retired from.

When it comes to LEOSA, keep it simple. Don't create liability by doing more than is required.

Glen A. Hoyer is the director of the National Rifle Association's Law Enforcement Division. A 25-year law enforcement veteran, who was assigned to the SWAT Team, Firearms Training Unit, and K-9 unit, he retired from the Lexington County (SC) Sheriff's Department as a captain. Hoyer has been a firearm instructor for 32 years and is certified by the NRA in handgun, shotgun, select-fire weapons, and patrol rifle.

Comments (23)

Displaying 1 - 23 of 23

tedb @ 5/7/2018 7:24 AM

I am an active firearms instructor in Nevada, with 36 years as an instructor and also a retired federal agent. I fully agree with the statements made by the author. In our state, we have a state mandated certificate that we issue to the retired officer, showing only that he qualified with a handgun and using the same course of fire used by active officers. He then takes it to his agency or to the local Sheriff's Department where he is issued a firearms qualification card.

Mdog @ 5/7/2018 12:57 PM

Great insight TedB. Anyone know how things work in the crazy state of CA? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I'm a current Fed Firearms Instructor, and I want to make sure we take care of our retired guys when it comes to this. Thanks.

Joe @ 5/8/2018 6:49 PM

tedb I agree with you but we take the paper filled out, after qualification the instructor puts pass or fail. we then send that form and a money order to the State Police Licensing division (DPS AZ). this group also does Licensing for P.I. and numerous other licensing mandated by the state. We use the qualification course that the non retired officer has to use. I would really like to see departments you live near (if not near the one you retired from) allow you to use their range to stay proficient. I know retired guys, myself being one of them that trains and shoots more than current officers. would be a nice way for the young ones to know who we are so if we help they know us, and two you still get to enjoy your brother/sister in Blue's company and you never know what a retired guy could teach you.

brian hagal @ 5/24/2018 5:04 AM

Love reading these articles, but they never discussion the hoops we have to jump through in New Jersey, as a retired LEO

Otto Kiehl @ 5/28/2018 11:05 AM

I think the whole reason Glen wrote this article was to point out that there should nor be great hoops to jump through. He wasn't saying that there were not places that (erron

Kelly, James M @ 5/30/2018 1:32 PM

Going to jersey in July am ret Chicago Police qualified with semi auto and revolver any restrictions on What weapon I CANT carry or mag capacity? Thanks and take care.

Nick DeMarco @ 6/2/2018 10:30 AM

Yes... Jersey is a royal pain in the butt to get a LEOSA card... No hollow point ammo, qualify twice a year, you must list all weapons that you qualify with, and then you can't renew after age 75...

Buck @ 6/2/2018 10:05 PM

LEOSA is another fine example of a typical federal FUBAR. If this feckless Congress would pass the National Reciprocity Act then LEOSA could be retired to the circular file where it belongs! It never ceases to amaze me that we spend an entire career entrusted and tasked with the responsibility of 24/7 duty only to be kicked to the curb upon honorable retirement! Thankfully I live in a Constitutional Carry state. I don't waste my time with LEOSA. And if I should travel in another state without CC or reciprocity, I still go strapped. I have my retirement ID and I also carry a credit card sized history of my employment and training. If that isn't good enough for an officer whom I might encounter during a traffic stop, well, shame on them! I'm not going through yearly qualifications or some other dog and pony show to prove what I accomplished during a long and successful career that began when most cops today were just a gleam in their daddies eyes!

Craig @ 6/13/2018 7:26 PM

Buck, I hear the frustration in your voice and agree with you, but pls. reconsider going to the range annually to get your LEOSA card to carry with your creds. We've all been there, However, even with your ret. creds, that 23 yr old rookie the next state over may not give a crap about your storied career or that you were working before he was born. Bottom line is that you need to give him the least reason to make your life miserable if you got into a scrape, and that's having your t's crossed and your i's dotted. He sees your creds, but without that card allowing you to carry via LEOSA in another state, you may be subject to not only detention, but arrest if your CCW isn't recognized. Again, I agree with the "shame on them" if they don't recognize your history and training, but you won't be saying "shame on them" when you could possibly end up cuffed in a patrol car for simply carrying and acting under'll be thinking "why didn't I qualify!"

Robert @ 6/24/2018 11:53 AM

I retired ten years ago and my S.O. retired credential doesn't have LEOSA language on it. I do annually shoot my state's LEOSA firearms course and carry that photo ID qualification card. Do I need to have my S.O. ID updated with the LEOSA language you mentioned in this article?

William @ 6/30/2018 1:39 PM

This should be federal permit and cover all states, dealing with some states is a lot of stupid BS

DanP @ 7/5/2018 11:50 AM

All good comments, after haggling with Washington State's CJTC we (FOP) were able to develop a standardized guideline for any Lodge to qualify its retired officers. We have a standard card with the language specified in the states program, they are serialized and issued out. Its a good PR thing for us and raises money for our scholarship program. Now we're looking at pushing legislation to change the state law so you can use it in place of a CCW card to purchase a firearm w/o the waiting period. Right now you can only skip waiting period if you have a CCW. Naysayers, think that it isn't good enough because the LEOSA card and LE retired creds don't meet the background check requirements. But you still would need a NICS check whether its a LEOSA card or a CCW.

Bob @ 8/27/2018 5:31 PM

I've been told that LEOSA doesn't exclude you from a state's restrictions on magazine capacity. But reading the law, it only lists 2 things it does NOT supersede - the ability of private property owners to ban firearms from their property, and of states to restrict carrying on certain state properties. So it seems to me that anything NOT listed (I.E., mag. capacity) IS superseded. Can anyone clarify?

Rick @ 9/12/2018 6:54 AM

With regards to Bob's Aug. 27th comment, there is currently a bill introduced in the House of Representatives to correct the gaps in LEOSA. It is called the LEOSA Reform Act (H.R. 6105). It covers the magazine restrictions, as well as carrying on private property which is open to the public. Please look it up and contact your representative and tell them to support this bill.

Darren forcino @ 9/15/2018 4:54 AM

I have retired credentials plus a qual card referencing leosa. Retired NYPD. I live in NY and I travel to NJ frequently. What is the story with NJ. Despite my credentials I'm afraid to carry there having heard stories. I don't want to be arrested and deal with that even if exonerated at a later date. I've spoken to the AG's office and the NJ State Police firearms division and I'm unable to get a straight answer of "you're good". I'm afraid to count on professional courtesy at this point. Please advise?!?!?!

Editor @ 9/17/2018 12:18 PM

Per Mr. Hoyer at the NRA: If you have all of the necessary documents (proper retired I.D. card and proof of qualification within the past year), then you meet the federal law requirements for LEOSA. I cannot say that you would never be a victim of someone’s misconception, however, there is one case in California where a Coast Guard Boarding Officer was arrested and he claimed LEOSA as his authority to carry. He was released and he did sue the department and recevied over $42,000 in damages and the department had to provide more training to its’ officers on the LEOSA law and make policy changes.

No state can ignore a federal law.

scotty @ 9/23/2018 6:27 PM

I am a retired federal officer and I do not understand how to reconcile this part, with what is written later (about the type of ID and/or qualifying within the state):
"(4) during the most recent 12-month period, has met, at the expense of the individual, the standards for qualification in firearms training for active law enforcement officers, as determined by the former agency of the individual, the State in which the individual resides or, if the State has not established such standards, either a law enforcement agency within the State in which the individual resides or the standards used by a certified firearms instructor that is qualified to conduct a firearms qualification test for active duty officers within that State..."

As compared to the later part "(d) The identification required by this subsection

If the 1st part is true, then why can't I, provided I have an ID from my former agency, merely keep qualifying on the FLETC PPC each year, vs dealing with the state?

Editor @ 9/24/2018 1:12 PM

@Scotty, per Mr. Hoyer at the NRA: "You have the option of either returning to the department you retired from to get qualified. If you do not want to, or they do not provide qualifications for their retired officers, then you can qualify under the procedures set up by the state you reside in.

If your state has no procedure set up and your department is either out of state or doesn't qualify it's retired officers, then any instructor, who is authorized to qualify active duty law enforcement officers in the state in which you reside, may utilize a course of fire they feel is appropriate and administer the qualification and provide documentation of such qualification upon successful completion."

scotty @ 9/24/2018 5:12 PM

Thanks, yes, to me, a federal firearms instructor (cert by FLETC) is able and can and does qualify law enforcement officers within my state (many fed agencies do from Baltimore to the PG county outdoor range), which means it would seem he would be able to qualify me--it doesn't say it has to be someone qualified to instruct a course of fire FOR STATE OFFICERS OR OFFICERS THAT WORK WITHIN MUNICIPALITIES within the state. A federal firearms instructor, is quite literally, legally permitted to qualify active LEOs (albeit federal) within Maryland, and I did while I was on active duty many times.

Going thru the state is a pain and they want to give me a "card" and all that ( I don't need one).

Anyhow, thanks for the info.

William Farrell @ 10/15/2018 10:02 PM

I have qualified yearly as required with a Sig M11A1, a semiautomatic. Since I am qualified, I can also carry my S&W revolver? Thanks.

Editor @ 10/16/2018 9:30 AM

@William Farrell: The Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act states you must qualify with the same “type” of firearm you are going to carry. Since the law does not define “type”, the closest definition is found in the same code section where the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act is located and it defines “type” as handgun, rifle or shotgun. So, if you have qualified with a handgun/pistol, you can carry any type of handgun or pistol as it is the same “type”.

Eric R Siweck @ 11/1/2018 9:14 PM

I recently retired from DEA. I was the Unit Chief at Firearms Unit-Quantico and a PFI since 09/2000. I live in Washington State, unfortunately. I am in good standing with DEA and I have a CPL (CCW) from the county in which I live.

Do I need a LEOSA card, or am I able just to qualify locally with a the SO/PD PGI's? I read the WA LEOSA requirements, but its unclear (to me) and I am not to happy to pay $100 for a card initially and application to WA for what exactly? I am not sure I need to have?

Can someone provide some guidance on this? This entire LEOSA "law" seems convoluted and unnecessarily complex. I feel like I am on crazy pills..


editor @ 11/5/2018 11:13 AM

Eric, if you have a “Qualified Retired Law Enforcement” ID and proof of a qualification within the last year, then you are set for LEOSA. There is no one LEOSA card and it is NOT a permit. You merely have the required ID credential I mentioned and the qualification card and together that gives you the privilege to carry nationwide under LEOSA.

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