(Reprinted with the Permission of LEAA Advocate) By Massad Ayoob
HR.218 would do important work in allowing all currently sworn and honorably retired law enforcement officers to carry their guns off-duty nationwide. This does not, however, eliminate the need for national concealed carry legislation available to the private citizen.
Let us consider the following: 1. National concealed carry would extend protection to the officer’s family members. Many officers have been threatened by people they’ve arrested in the past. Some have been killed or maimed by those persons. And it is not uncommon for such criminals’ vengeful intent to extend to the officer’s family.
The imprisoned arrestee decides that it’s the arresting officer’s fault that his family has been torn from him, so he decides to punish the officer by attacking the cop’s family upon release. Or, his demented significant other decides that if the cop took her spouse away, she’ll take revenge in kind. No officer, even if retired, can provide 24-hour bodyguard service for his or her loved ones….but national concealed carry would allow those loved ones who are responsible adults to take the necessary steps, including training to be able to protect themselves from lethal or maiming assault with armed force.
2. Not all cops would be covered by national off-duty carry. The way some proposed national off-duty carry legislation has been written, for a retired officer to carry, he or she would have to be in the retirement system. An officer who was fully trained and capable but left the job too early or bought out their pension benefits might not fit through this loophole. The same would be true for tens of thousands of trained and competent reserve police officers who, though perhaps fully sworn and performing exactly the same duties as their career brethren, would not be in the retirement system.
3. National concealed carry can keep cops out of trickbags. Many of us know officers who found that a person they contacted was carrying a gun illegally, but instead of arresting the citizen, unloaded the weapon and gave it back to him or her with only a warning. You know the situation: the otherwise law –abiding citizen unable to get a permit due to local policy, but carrying a gun responsibly for protection—the store owner making a cash night deposit, the nurse on her way home from second shift at the hospital on a dark road, etc.
We all understand why these officers chose not to make an arrest in those situations. However, suppose one of the same officers arrests a known criminal for the same offense of illegal CCW. If the suspect and his attorney can show that in the past the officer has let off someone for what is technically the same offense–let’s say that nurse in the example above is a white female, but the suspect he has arrested for doing the same thing is black or male–they can now make and perhaps sell an argument of racial or sexist prejudice on the part of the police officer.
Cops in concealed-carry “shall issue” states don’t have this problem. They know that any decent citizen can get a permit to carry, and one who didn’t bother to do so is so careless and clueless or such a scofflaw that they feel no qualms about arresting him or her for unlicensed CCW. The same would be true throughout the country if national CCW became a reality. One more patch of quicksand waiting to swallow good cops would thus be safely filled in.
4. National CCW would add another lay of street survival, career survival, and courtroom survival to the officer carrying off-duty outside his or her jurisdiction. Let’s say HR. 218 passes, as we all hope it will, and sworn police officers are now authorized to carry their weapons off-duty anywhere in the country. Those officers are still subject to departmental regulations. An anti-gun chief, perhaps using civil liability as a pretext, prohibits officers from carrying weapons outside their jurisdiction by department edict. While it doesn’t carry the power of law, violating that edict could be a firing offense.
An officer with a civilian concealed-carry permit could, under national reciprocity, carry his or her weapon outside the jurisdiction on the permit instead of on the badge, at once re-arming the officer and giving the department a complete release from liability.
5. We all learned early in this job that we can’t protect everyone. While the new young officer resents sharing the sidearm – his symbol of authority – with those who haven’t gone through the same academy training, the seasoned veterans have learned that armed citizens are their natural allies in the war against crime.
No one cheers louder than the old harness cops when a citizen victim draws a gun and turns the table on an armed predator. With only perhaps 600,000 serving police to protect the more than two hundred million citizens of this nation, it is those who are in “the thin blue line” who best know how truly thin that line is. To swear an oath to protect and serve, and then fail to support legislation that would allow those they serve to protect themselves until the police can get there, is nothing less than hypocritical.
Properly framed and implemented, national CCW would, on balance, be overwhelmingly helpful to law enforcement officers both on and off duty, both at home and away, just as it would be overwhelmingly beneficial to those officers’ families and, of course, to the citizens those officers exist to protect and serve.
Massad Ayoob works full time as director of Lethal Force Institute, PO Box 122, Concord, NH 03301. His testimony as an expert in police shooting cases has saved many officers’ careers. Part time, Ayoob serves as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET), and as a fully sworn captain with a small municipal police department in Northern New England.