Police Officers Right to Carry Firearms

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We live in a society where terror attacks or mass shootings by disturbed people are almost common, everyday occurrences. Yet despite all these horrific events, we continue to disarm the very people who could be key in stopping some of these mass attacks. We train our police officers to respond to these types of incidents, yet in their off duty status we allow way too many private venues to ban them from carrying their weapons inside.

In many police departments or other law enforcement agencies, officers are trained with a variety of weapons, including handguns, shotguns and rifles. We trust them with these weapons, and in fact even after they retire they can carry the weapons and have to qualify with them annually. 

Eleven years ago, HR 218 was enacted into law. The Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act, simply known as the national carry law, allows sworn police officers, both active and retired, to carry a gun anywhere in the US. The intent of the act, and its subsequent revisions, is quite clear. Trained, armed police officers are a good thing, and there should be a consistent federal model rather than allowing individual states to set laws prohibiting off duty police officers from carrying weapons. Before the enactment of this law, many other police officers were actually in technical violation of the law by simply traveling to work. An example would be in the Northern NY suburbs where the direct route into New York City required 15 minutes or so of travel through New Jersey before crossing a bridge and reentering New York. The insanity of that was driven home to me late one night while traveling home from work in New York City after an evening shift. I found myself stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on a foggy parkway just over the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. As we crawled along the parkway, several gunshots rang out. Needless to say as I crawled along I grabbed my gun and peered into the fog to see what was happening. As it turned out, there was a jeweler who was followed home from New York City, who was purposely rear-ended in his car by a group who then robbed him and during the course of the robbery fired several shots. By the time I got to where the robbery took place the suspects were gone, but it was a tense few minutes. It would have been more harrowing had I not carried my weapon with me, and so HR 218 takes issues like that off the table. 

Unfortunately, there is another huge impediment to a true national law enforcement officer’s carry act. Although LEOSA preempts state and local laws, there are two notable exceptions built right into the law: State law permits private persons or entities to prohibit or restrict the possession of concealed firearms on their property (such as a bars, private clubs, amusement parks, etc.), and can prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms on any State or local government property, installation, building, base, or park. Additionally, LEOSA does not override the federal Gun-Free School Zone Act (GFSZA) which prohibits carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of elementary or secondary schools. Although the GFSZA authorizes on-duty law enforcement officers to carry firearms in such circumstances, off-duty and retired law enforcement officers are still restricted from doing so unless they have a firearms license issued from the state in which they reside and then it is only good for the state in which they reside. Individuals must also obey any federal laws and federal agency policies that restrict the carrying of concealed firearms in certain federal buildings and lands, as well as federal regulations prohibiting the carriage of firearms on airplanes

Of course, there are other venues where a police officer is not allowed to carry a weapon absent some special circumstances, such as planes and various federal facilities. Even some of these restrictions can use some further examination to see if they actually serve the purpose of both the law and the public at-large.

A few years ago I went into New York City to attend a concert at the Nokia Theater. As is my usual practice, especially when traveling into NYC, I had my firearm with me. Security would not let me in, so I asked for a supervisor. The house manager came and spoke with me, and told me their policy was not to let anyone with firearms inside. I even spoke with several officers working the event, and they said even they can’t carry their firearms inside off duty. So now I was faced with what to do with my weapon. I let my wife go inside, while I ran several blocks to the nearest police precinct. They were kind enough to hold onto my weapon, although they had no facilities to do so and I suspect they get asked to do this fairly frequently. One of the officers at the desk was willing to hold the gun in his locker. Now as I head back to the theater, I am unarmed and my value as a trained law enforcement officer is diminished. 

Recently I made several trips into New York City. I know now to call in advance to ascertain any venue’s policy on off duty law enforcement and firearms. More and more are banning weapons, and some tell you ridiculous things such as "lock it in your car". Unless your car is actually equipped with a lock box for weapons, being told to leave a weapon in a car is extremely naive and irresponsible, and just points out how ill-equipped these “security” personnel are. Frankly, when you arrive at most venues, their security is not equipped or trained to deal with armed intruders. Some have off duty officers moonlighting, but many have unarmed, and poorly trained security staff that they rely upon. For most people, that means leaving the weapon at home, the result being you have totally disarmed officers which to me defeats the intent of the LEOSA. 

I assume most of those in charge of these large venues feel their security can handle any matters that occur, and if not the local police are just a phone call away. I have already expressed my opinion that most of the security at these venues are not trained or equipped to handle an active shooter situation. Even if there are armed personnel inside, their ability to intercede in an active shooter scenario depends on where everyone is situated if and when such an event occurs. It takes seconds for an armed individual to wreak havoc, especially in a crowded location. The closer an armed and trained law enforcement officer is the sooner the carnage may be terminated. Yet the very same people who you would hope would arrive when you call 911 are the people you don’t trust to bring their weapons inside? Does the training go away because you are off duty? I mentioned involvement in some off duty events earlier in this letter, and have made several off duty arrests during my career. I know that any of these situations could turn bad real fast, and if I were not armed I would be far less likely to act. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since most police departments now prefer off duty officers to observe and call for on duty help rather than taking enforcement action off duty, when possible. But no one in law enforcement, or the public for that matter, would mind an armed off duty officer terminating an active shooting event by being armed and in the right place at the right time. Just ask Trooper Edward Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Public Safety whose life was saved by an armed citizen passing by intervened. Imagine a trained officer was passing by but left his gun at home because he was going to an event at a facility that banned officers from carrying their weapons.

In my opinion, the LEOSA needs to be amended to remove the right of private property owners that allows them to prohibit those officers covered under the act from carrying their firearms inside private premises. The provisions regarding Gun_free school zones should also not apply to those covered under the act. It is just a legal trap that an officer from out of state can easily fall prey to. I can understand retaining the right for government to prevent the carrying on government property, since most of those locations have trained, on duty law enforcement in place. But to give full force and effect to the spirit of the LEOSA, you need to allow officers to carry their weapons with them. Having officers leave their weapons home because at some point in their travel they are going to enter a private business that will not allow them in forces officers to disarm or to forgo enjoying concerns, sporting events, theater and the like.

Please join me in getting these important changes to the LEOSA enacted. The safety of our citizens can not be understated, and we may now have a President who might be able to help make this happen.