Before a congressional subcommittee hearing yesterday, representatives from the leading national police organizations testified on whether Congress should liberalize the ability of current and former police officers to carry concealed firearms.
The proposed legislation would amend the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) of 2004, which gave the right to designated police officers to carry a concealed firearm wherever, regardless of state or local laws. The bill would be intended to give officers the ability to protect themselves from those who may hold grudges or violent intentions from previous encounters with an officer. The House and Senate versions (H.R. 2726 and S. 376) seek to loosen the original bill's eligibility and training requirements for officers carrying a concealed weapon.
Chief Scott Knight of the International Association of Chiefs of Police told the Judiciary's subcommittee that his organization was "strongly opposed" to the LEOSA in 2004 and is opposed to the new version. He said the organization believes states and localities should have the right to determine who can carry firearms in their jurisdictions.
"Why should a police chief who has employed the most rigorous training program, a strict standard of accountability, and stringent policies be forced to permit officers who may not meet those standards to carry a concealed weapon in his or her jurisdiction?" Knight asked.
Another concern is that the new law will expand the number of current and retired officers carrying concealed weapons, while diluting the power of states and localities to determine who among those officers is qualified to carry concealed weapons.
"We believe that the proposed amendment unnecessarily expands the term 'qualified retired law enforcement officer' who can carry a concealed firearm," said Craig Webre of the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA). The NSA, an original supporter of the LEOSA, opposes the new amendments.
"At this time, we are not convinced the proposed changes being considered by this Committee are necessary, or that the potential benefits would outweigh the unintended negative consequences," he said.
The Senate version of the bill eliminates the requirement that a retired officer with the ability to carry a concealed firearm have a nonforfeitable right to a retirement benefits plan. The House version goes further, scuttling the retirement qualification altogether, changing it to a "departed" officer.
Knight said his organization was particularly concerned with a provision in the House version that seemingly guts the abilities of states and localities to set their own firearm standards for retired officers.
"Specifically, the provisions of Section 2 (b) would appear to mandate that, in the absense of state standards, the standards set by any police department within the state would become the de facto standard for the entire state," he said.
Thomas Penoza of the Fraternal Order of Police, a supporter of the amendments, said the House version of the bill rectifies inequities in the original bill, especially the requirement that a retired officer receive retirement benefits.
"This has been very problematic in agencies which do not offer any retirement benefit plan to their officers and has disproportionately affected deputy sheriffs," he said. "The receipt of a retirement benefit after an officer has left the service of his agency should not be determinative as to his authority to carry a firearm, so H.R. 2726 deletes this particular language."
Knight says these changes will allow officers to carry concealed weapons even if they retired or left the uniform to avoid disciplinary action or dismissal for emotional problems.