August 8, 2016
John Roberts, Esq.
Arseneault & Fassett, LLP
An influential Federal Appeals Court recently ruled that qualified law enforcement officers who are off-duty or retired have an enforceable Federal right to obtain a concealed carry firearms permit – notwithstanding State and local laws that otherwise restrict or prohibit concealed carry – and can sue in Federal court when their rights have been violated.
In June, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (D.C.) Circuit decided the case of Duberry v. District of Columbia, in which local authorities had refused to issue the documents that retired corrections officers needed to obtain their concealed carry permits. The officers retained an attorney to bring a lawsuit in Federal court to uphold their rights. The lawsuit claimed that their former agencies violated their rights under the Federal “Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act” (LEOSA).
Congress enacted LEOSA because the unique threat that law enforcement officers face due to their occupation does not end when they are off-duty or retired. LEOSA explicitly overrides state and local laws and gives retired and off-duty officers who qualify and meet certain conditions the right to carry a concealed weapon to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.
The Court ruled that officers whose rights under LEOSA have been violated by a government agency can bring a Section 1983 lawsuit to enforce their rights and force State and local agencies to comply with Federal law. LEOSA applies not only to state and local police officers, but also to Federal agents, military police, Amtrak police officers, and corrections officers.
LEOSA requires applicants to meet certain eligibility requirements to receive its protections. For example, currently employed officers must have arrest powers and be authorized to carry a firearm while on duty, among other things. Retired officers must also have had at least ten years of service. LEOSA also requires all officers to maintain their firearms training qualifications while they carry.
As Federal law, LEOSA should apply in New Jersey with as much force as it does in D.C. The recent court decision strengthens the fact that law enforcement officers and retirees living in New Jersey have the right to obtain concealed carry permits, despite New Jersey’s extremely restrictive gun laws. If local agencies resist issuing permits to qualified officers, this decision provides powerful legal precedent to enforce their rights in court if necessary.
The takeaway from this decision is that current and retired law enforcement officers who have been frustrated in their attempts to obtain their concealed carry permits in New Jersey should consult an attorney. An attorney can help you navigate LEOSA’s statutory requirements and the New Jersey concealed carry application process. If you have been denied a permit, an attorney can help determine whether your rights have been violated. If you have been denied a permit unfairly, an attorney can represent you in court to vindicate your right to protect yourself and your family.