Law Enforcement Safety Act (LEOSA) Makes Officer Safety Uniform Across America—Or Does it?

By Steve Pomper 

I recently attended my annual Law Enforcement Safety Act of 2004 (LEOSA) firearms qualification course. It’s actually more harrowing than one might think. Not the actual quals but because I have to travel through “homeless” encampment-strewn Seattle to get to the range which is just south of the city limits.

Then, after having my gun inspected, completing the qualification course, and getting my paperwork signed, I not only have to make the return trip but also venture into Downtown to police headquarters to get my new LEOSA I.D. Never has the phrase belly of the beast had so much accuracy.

Crazy bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, insufficient parking, tents set up under the freeway and on sidewalks, assaults outside the courthouse, and general filth and trash. But that’s a story for another day.

Today, let’s talk about LEOSA, which the Congress intended to make uniform across America rules for active and retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm. But, as we’ve learned, some people don’t play well with laws they don’t like. Trying to keep up with LEOSA with some state’s ignoring the federal law (sound familiar?) rivals the craziness of Downtown Seattle.

In 2004, President George W. Bush signed LEOSA into law. Previously, individual state laws were not uniform and could pose legal hazards for both active and retired cops carrying guns while in other states. This act established active and retired law enforcement officers had a right to carry a firearm in any U.S. state, district, territory, or possession. Why is this law important?

Because bad guys don’t stop being bad guys just because good guys retire. Cops travel and so do bad guys. I once ran into someone from my hometown when I was standing in front of a store on Broadway in New York City. So, today, why couldn’t I bump into someone I’d arrested? You never know really applies here.

I’ve long been a proponent of I’d rather have my gun and not need it than vice versa. Now, carrying a gun is an individual choice. Whether you’re a civilian or a retired or off-duty law enforcement officer, many things will influence your decision to carry a firearm—in your state or another.

Are you going to be drinking alcohol (maybe to excess)? Are you going swimming where you can’t carry on your person, so you might not be able to secure your weapon adequately? There are myriad things that may prevent you from carrying a concealed gun on some occasions. Still, I carry almost everywhere almost every day—because you never know.

I don’t want to be that one retired cop at the mall with his grandchildren when some scum pulls a gun, starts shooting, and all I can do is cover their little bodies with mine and hope he misses—or hope that someone else is concealed carrying. But, as they say, “Hope is not a plan?”

As mentioned above, LEOSA allows officers to carry concealed firearms in all 50 states and U.S. territories. A qualified law enforcement officer, possessing government photo I.D sanctioning concealed carry, within the legal provisions of State and local laws, may carry a concealed firearm. The act restricts LEOSA qualified officers from being intoxicated or high while armed.

Essentially, the law defines as “qualified” a law enforcement officer, current or retired in good standing, having served at least 10 years (originally 15), entitled to retirement benefits from a law enforcement agency, and having met the state’s annual firearms training and qualification for active officers.

This is how LEOSA is supposed to work, but this is modern America where some folks simply don’t like to follow laws they don’t like—officer safety be damned.

The legislature amended the law in 2010 and 2013. The amendments established:

  • the aggregate years of qualifying service is 10.
  • extending benefits to federal law enforcement officers.
  • mandating officers must carry LEOSA-qualifying photo I.D.

Currently, there is another effort to amend the act in Congress. If you’re interested, you can immerse yourself in H.R.1156-LEOSA Reform Act’s legal-speak here. For a brief overview, one change I gleaned is qualified officers will be exempt from those ridiculous school “Gun Free Zones.” Generally, the bill tidies up some of the onerous administrative requirements and legally hazardous inconsistencies. The bill has 27 sponsors and, from what I can tell, they all have Rs after their names.

But that bill has not passed, yet. In today’s America, many anti-cop politicians running cities and states choose which laws they will follow and which ones they won’t. Immigration law is a good example. Apparently, so is LEOSA.

Mike Wood, in PoliceOne.com, writes about a unique challenge involving the state of Hawai’i, a state that leans left politically. Sadly, the Aloha state (where lots of cops from the mainland vacation—and probably criminals, too) is not so concerned about officer safety. Hawai’i has decided that the federal act designed to make laws uniform across all states and territories in the interest of officer safety does not apply in their state.

Wood warns even LEOSA-qualified officers, “The constitutionality of such a move by the state of Hawaii is certainly suspect, but while the legal battle is waged, officers should be aware that they may be subject to legal jeopardy and may unwittingly become pawns in a political chess game if they don’t comply with the Hawaii guidelines.”

Reportedly, there are other states that that won’t issue their state’s active and retired law enforcement officers LEOSA credentials. For example, Rhode Island only issues concealed carry permits to state law enforcement and residents. Even if you are LEOSA certified, if you want to carry concealed in Rhode Island, you must apply for a permit just like any state resident. Hawai’i has similar requirements.

We’ve only briefly covered the subject but if you’d like to delve more deeply into the issue (which I recommend), there is a more comprehensive paper provided by the fine attorneys at the Daigle Law Group, which explores in detail LEOSA legal issues.

So, if you’re an officer planning to use your LEOSA privileges, keep in mind what Sgt. Phillip Esterhaus advised his squad in the 1980s TV show Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.” You know, if states like Hawai’i and Rhode Island will let us.

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