Judge Rules in Favor of LEOSA Suit Against State of New Jersey

“FLEOA and the NJ FOP joined in this lawsuit to address the injustice the State of New Jersey has been carrying out against law enforcement officers for decades."

Retired officers living in New Jersey may soon find an easier path to being allowed to carry under LEOSA following a decision handed down Tuesday in United States District Court.

A United States District Court Judge granted a motion for summary judgement in favor of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, and three retired officers in a LEOSA-related case against the State of New Jersey. An appropriate order will follow, according to the court document.

According to court documents, the case is a challenge to New Jersey laws that restrict retired law enforcement officers from carrying firearms and using hollow point ammunition in New Jersey. The plaintiffs sued arguing that the federal Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA) creates a private right to carry and that LEOSA preempts the New Jersey laws pursuant to the Supremacy Clause.

“FLEOA and NJ FOP started this lawsuit against the State of New Jersey because of its complete failure to comply with the federal standards set in the LEOSA in title 18 U.S.C. 926C. The state created a scheme that denied otherwise lawful and compliant law enforcement officers their rights to carry under the federal LEOSA statute. This regulatory scheme was inconsistent with federal law, undermined our members rights, and diminished public safety,” says FLEOA President Larry Cosme.

New Jersey law makes it a crime to carry a handgun without a permit or exemption. However, the law exempts retired law enforcement officers, including those who qualify under LEOSA, from the restriction if they obtain a retired officer permit from the State of New Jersey. To obtain a permit, a retired officer must apply in writing to the state police superintendent. The permit applications are reviewed by the New Jersey State Police Firearms Investigation Unit. Police also will request verification of service from the head of the retiree’s prior department. The permit is for one year and retired officers can reapply each year. The retired officer must also be under 75 years of age and semi-annually qualify for the handgun he or she wants to be permitted to carry.

New Jersey law also makes it a crime to possess “hollow nose” ammunition unless a person is active law enforcement. Per the law, carrying such ammo by a person holding valid LEOSA credentials is illegal.

Also, state law provides that no handgun purchase permit or firearms purchaser identification card shall be issued to any person where the issuance would not be in the best interest of the public health, safety, or welfare.

The court documents report “This allows the superintendent to deny the application he believes is not ‘in the interest of public health, safety, or welfare’.” Also, the attorney general’s 2018 Guidelines concerning LEOSA does not provide an alternate path to eligibility to carry a firearm where a retired officer living in New Jersey is not eligible for a permit under state law.

The attorney general, in 2021, issued updated policy guidelines defining qualified LEOSA retirees into three categories – federal or out-of-state retirees residing in New Jersey, New Jersey retirees residing out of state, and New Jersey retirees residing in New Jersey. Retirees in two of those categories were not required to obtain a permit. Federal and out-of-state retirees living in New Jersey and New Jersey retirees living out of state do not need to apply for a permit to carry a firearm in New Jersey as long as they meet the requirements of LEOSA and have the proper identification.

However, New Jersey retirees living in the state were required to apply for a permit to carry a firearm and had to meet “statutory standards” even though they are otherwise qualified and credentialled under LEOSA.

“FLEOA and the NJ FOP joined in this lawsuit to address the injustice the State of New Jersey has been carrying out against law enforcement officers for decades. The state’s flagrant and willful ignorance of federal law has sowed confusion and discontent among otherwise qualified law enforcement officers. LEOSA sought to enhance public safety. Instead, the State of New Jersey criminalized lawful conduct

of qualified law enforcement officers,” say Cosme and New Jersey FOP President Rober W. Fox.

A joint statement by Cosme and Fox continued, saying “Now, qualified law enforcement officers in New Jersey no longer need to live in fear of punishment for following federal law, but potentially violating New Jersey regulations. We are thankful for the Court’s ruling in this case. The Court’s decision hits on the merits and facts of our position and was based on what the federal statute clearly says–that LEOSA is indeed the law of the land.”

The three retired plaintiff officers involved in the case each had been denied a permit to carry. One previously carried under LEOSA and had a permit to carry in New Jersey. However, he turned 75 in Aug. 2021 and became ineligible for a permit under New Jersey state law. The second retired officer applied for a permit but was disapproved by the superintendent of state police because the officer’s former agency refused to endorse and certify his application. The third retired officer applied but was denied because the state said he submitted and incomplete application.

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