Opinion

Retired officers and guns: Federal Way gets it right | Firearms Lawyer

Several years ago, a retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy retained me to provide him with an opinion letter.

He hired me to research whether a Washington state law enforcement agency had additional liability if it certified retired law enforcement officers for purposes of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act of 2004 (LEOSA).

Retired law enforcement officers were having trouble getting qualified under LEOSA’s provision that active and retired officers can carry in all 50 states.

Congress enacted LEOSA to deter crime and prevent terrorist activity by providing the additional layer of protection afforded by armed law enforcement personnel that travel from one jurisdiction to another while on business, vacationing or for any other reason.

Retired officers must qualify annually. According to my client, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs had been telling municipalities that they were exposed to increased legal risk if their law enforcement agencies certified retired officers as having met the same standards required of their own active duty officers.

In effect, LEOSA assists law enforcement and the public while costing state, local and federal governments very little. This is because the training has already been provided. Each retired officer essentially becomes a volunteer who must pay the cost of maintaining his or her certification.

Although many cities were refusing to qualify retired officers, Federal Way was one of the first to start qualifying retired officers. The Federal Way Police Department has taken a commendable approach when it comes to following state and federal gun laws. They don’t horse around!

Many officers don’t even realize that they can carry in all 50 states. Remember the Seattle officer who was in a bar with the Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club in Sturgis, S.D.? The biker cops suddenly realized that outlaw bikers were invading the drinking establishment. Then Det. Ronald Smith was on the floor facing an imminent threat that several Hell’s Angels would stomp him to death. He shot one of his attackers. The fact that LEOSA was in effect apparently shielded him from any charge that he was carrying illegally in South Dakota.

LEOSA overrides state and local laws. LEOSA-qualified individuals must continue to obey federal laws and agency policies that restrict the carrying of concealed firearms in certain federal buildings and lands. New York City and other jurisdictions have occasionally defied the provisions of LEOSA by prosecuting law enforcement officers on weapons charges. The courts have upheld the LEOSA.

The courts have confirmed that “Coasties” are also covered by LEOSA. When we drive down to Front Sight in Nevada, my friend is a Coast Guard retiree that resides in Federal Way. I told another retired Coast Guard friend in Federal Way about his status under LEOSA. He travels extensively, wants to be able to carry a pistol when he travels, and was surprised to know that he is definitely a retired law enforcement officer under federal law.

The answer to the question about increased liability: The potential for increased liability was a red herring. Opinions to the contrary may have been motivated by ageism and/or an agenda to deter an armed citizenry. No liability exists because a department’s decision to certify involves a basic governmental policy and objective. Thus, implementing LEOSA is within the proper authority and duty of law enforcement agencies — and helps protect all of us from random violence as we go about our business.

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