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Confusion abounds regarding the differences between the Law Enforcement Safety Act (LEOSA) and state concealed carry permits. Many law enforcement officers remain unclear as to what each offer and if they need to obtain one or both.

Law Enforcement Safety Act

LEOSA became federal law, enacted in 2004. It allows two classes of people — the “qualified Law Enforcement officer” and “qualified retired or separated Law Enforcement officer” (QRLEO) — to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States or United States Territories, regardless of state or local laws. Congress amended the law in 2010 and 2013; in both cases LEOSA authority actually expanded and enhanced. 

LEOSA’s legislative history shows original intent supersedes state laws pertaining to permits, including the home state of the individual claiming its exemption. Congress went as far as to declare LEOSA’s purpose was to implement “national measures of uniformity and consistency” and allow officers to carry a concealed firearm “anywhere within the United States.”

The law also explicitly allows QRLEOs to carry any firearm, defined in the law as “having the same meaning as in section 921 of this title; includes ammunition not expressly prohibited by Federal law or subject to the provisions of the National Firearms Act; and does not include any machine gun (as defined in section 5845 of the National Firearms Act); any firearm silencer (as defined in section 921 of this title); and any destructive device (as defined in section 921 of this title).” it includes any duty weapon, magazines and hollow point or other duty type ammunition authorized under LEOSA.

DOJ Support

The Department of Justice, in support of FLEOA’s lawsuit against the state of New Jersey for its flagrant violations of LEOSA, stated in its motion that, “It is the position of the United States that qualified retired law enforcement officers who possess the identification required by subsection (d)” of 18 U.S.C. § 926C “may carry a concealed firearm,” and use hollow-point bullets with that firearm, “[n]notwithstanding any other provision of the law of any State.” 18 U.S.C. § 926C(a); see id. § 926C(e)(1)(B).

The LEOSA statute also clearly empowers Agencies, not states, to issue LEOSA credentials, which is why LEOSA credentials are not a “permit,” rather the authority to carry. A LEOSA credential comes only after a QRLEO meets the federal LEOSA stipulations.

So why is there so much confusion and apparent disparities across the nation with LEOSA, state concealed carry permits, and their applications? 

Some states, like New Jersey, have created a state scheme that appears to replace LEOSA credentialing with a state permitting regime, which violates the intent of LEOSA. These states, despite federal law, implemented policies that have unlawfully pre-empted the federal law and have, in essence, turned LEOSA credentialing into a state permitting process that is out of compliance with LEOSA. 

Beyond New Jersey

New Jersey isn’t alone though. Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, and others either added regulations or remain non-compliant with the federal LEOSA. These states have effectively taken a federal law and attempted to neuter or ignore it.

Some states and individuals often misconstrue the full import of the LEOSA statute and what is allows, which is a limited waiver of concealed carry regulations in any state or U.S. territory. That waiver grants a right to carry an authorized concealed weapon throughout the United States and its territories. But it does not provide any other types of legal abilities beyond authorization to carry a concealed weapon. 

Civilian state permitting varies as well. Pennsylvania and Texas remain “shall issue,” but New York and New Jersey constitute “may issue” states. Then Vermont stands as Constitutional Carry, where the state requires no permit. These state issued permits provide different levels of state rights and authorities never intended for inclusion in LEOSA. Those authorities could include the ability to carry on private property or in state buildings sanctioned by state law. Some state CCW permits are also designed for business activities, like security or protective work, and include a certain amount of liability protections when carrying a concealed weapon under that state permit. LEOSA does not provide those type of state liability protections. 

Navigating State Lines

It is also important to know the limitations of the federal LEOSA statute; it doesn’t permit carry generally in state office buildings and private property. Federal courthouses and some other federal buildings are also prohibitive of LEOSA or any concealed weapons. 

While LEOSA is indeed a federal authority that grants a limited concealed carry waiver across the 50 states and every U.S. territory, state “permits” are bound by state lines and reciprocity agreements with other states. This is where LEOSA, as an authority, has no boundaries. Conversely, state permits, granted by a state, remain bound by state lines. Law enforcement officers must understand the differences, staying armed and ready for whatever situation they may face. 

Note: The above piece is an op-ed; there is no intention of legal guidance of any kind.

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