Ever since the introduction and passage of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) in 2004, its simple language, which allows law enforcement officers who qualify to carry concealed firearms off duty and in retirement, has been convoluted by states and even by some law enforcement agencies, due to the statute’s lack of clarity and specifics.
Despite three prior attempts, Congress still needs to clarify and simplify the law. Which is what the current Law Enforcement Officers Safety Reform Act would try to do.
Reintroduced earlier this year, the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Reform Act (H.R. 354 ) would continue to clarify the intent of Congress for LEOSA by stating that LEOSA-qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers can legally carry in gun-free school zones, on common carriers (buses, trains, and boats), in National Parks, and in certain federal facilities such as courts. It would also clarify the qualification requirements so that LEOSA-qualified officers aren’t forced, as they are in some states, to complete SWAT-level qualifications to carry in retirement.
Congress has sought to clarify and increase the breadth and scope of LEOSA by amending it in 2010 with the LEOSA Improvements Act, which clarified issues like the carry of any ammunition not prohibited by the National Firearms Act; and in 2013 in the National Defense Authorization Act, ensuring DOD components were included in LEOSA.
Despite these clarifications, states and some law enforcement agencies have continued to ignore the law or create obstacles for retired officers who want to qualify under LEOSA. One of the most blatant is the state of New Jersey, which recently lost a federal lawsuit filed by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Fraternal Order of Police (https://casetext.com/case/fed-law-enft-officers-assn-v-grewal). That suit was filed over New Jersey’s egregious preemption of LEOSA by requiring state permits, banning certain ammunition, and enacting active duty qualification and age standards. All of these anti-LEOSA measures violated the federal law, a federal district judge ruled.
New Jersey has since asked for a stay of the federal ruling and was denied. It is now appealing before the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and oral arguments for the appeal are scheduled for March 30.
New Jersey isn’t alone, other states also violate LEOSA.
In the original House Judiciary Committee hearing for LEOSA, the record shows that the Congressional intent was for the “Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2003'' to override state laws and mandate that retired and active police officers could carry a concealed weapon anywhere within the United States.” Consequently, states that try to preempt LEOSA are breaking this federal law.
Yet despite the clear language and intent from Congress, some states opted to either ignore or enact preemption statues, barring those that would be considered qualified under the federal statute their full LEOSA rights.
This patchwork of preemption exists, despite the federal language of “notwithstanding any state or other law,” not only violates the letter of the LEOSA law but also, in a time of regular mass shootings, impedes qualified law enforcement officers from being able to help protect America.
Which is why the LEOSA Reform Act has been reintroduced in this Congress. The LEOSA reform bill, as written and sponsored by Rep Donald Bacon of Nebraska, would clarify some of the federal statutory language and add some clarity that states will not be able to ignore. This will not only help LEOSA-qualified law enforcement officers but also the public, who in many jurisdictions continue to be victimized by crime emboldening policies.
I urge all of the readers of POLICE and PoliceMag.com to contact their senators and representatives and ask them to support the LEOSA Reform Act.
Donald J Mihalek is executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation.