Letter to Chairman Leahy in support of S. 376

02/02/2007

2 February 2007

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman, I am writing to thank you for introducing S. 376, the "Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act," which will make some improvements to the provisions of the Federal statute which exempts qualified active and retired law enforcement officers from State and local prohibitions on the carriage of firearms.

As a champion of the original Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), you know how important this measure is to the men and women who serve and have served as law enforcement officers in our nation's communities. The bill you have introduced addresses a persistent problem that qualified retired law enforcement officers have encountered in States which have failed to implement the LEOSA as intended by Congress. Under current law, qualified retired law enforcement officers must carry the photographic identification issued by the agency for which they were employed and documentation which certifies that they have met, within the most recent twelve month period, the active duty law enforcement standards for qualification for a firearm of the same type as the one they intend to carry. This document must be issued by the retired officer's former agency or from the State in which he resides. Right now, States which have not or have refused to adopt a procedure or mechanism for retired officers to qualify with their weapon are effectively preventing retired officers within their State from being able to carry their firearms legally as Congress intended.

During the mark-up of the legislation before the House Judiciary Committee in June 2004, this point was specifically addressed in a colloquy between Representatives F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), the Chairman of the Committee, and author of the amendment requiring the State or the agency to issue a document certifying that the officer had qualified, and Representative Ric Keller (R-FL). The exchange between these two Members made it clear that the amendment was not intended to be a means by which a State could "get around" the Federal law. Unfortunately, this is exactly its effect in many States.

To address this issue, your legislation would provide that a "certified firearms instructor" could conduct and qualify retired law enforcement officers using the active duty standards for qualification in firearms training as established by the State; or if the State has not established such standards, standards set by any law enforcement agency within that State. This would enable any certified firearms instructor to qualify a retired officer using either the standards set by the State in which the instructor is certified and the officer resides, or in the absence of such standards (or the recognition of such standards), using the standards of any law enforcement agency in the State. This will ensure that qualified retired law enforcement officers will no longer be prevented from carrying their firearms under LEOSA over what is simply a paperwork issue.

Our amendment will also make sure that the Amtrak Police Department is included in the definition of "qualified active and retired law enforcement officer." Under current law, because Amtrak is, under Title 49, "not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government," police officers employed by Amtrak do not meet the definition in LEOSA, which requires them to be an "employee of a governmental agency." Yet, the Amtrak Police Department has been, and is in many cases, treated as a Federal law enforcement agency by the Federal government. For instance, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) previously ruled that officers of that department should be exempt from Section 922(w) of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which prohibited the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices, except by law enforcement officers employed by a governmental agency. The ruling stated, in part that the Amtrak Police Department is "deemed to be a governmental agency for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. 922(w)." And, in the most recent report on Federal law enforcement officers available, entitled Federal Law Enforcement Officers, 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics listed the Amtrak Police Department as a Federal law enforcement agency. Given this information, it seems clear that the officers of the Amtrak Police Department should be included in the definition.

The bill would also clarify that any Federal law enforcement officer classified as a GS-0083 or any successor to that series who is employed by the Executive Branch also be deemed to meet the definition of "qualified active or retired law enforcement officer," in the current statute.

Finally, the bill would lower the aggregate years of service necessary to meet the definition of "qualified retired law enforcement officer," from fifteen (15) to ten (10) and remove confusing language related to that same definition.

It our hope that, given the wide margins by which the original bill creating LEOSA passed, that these minor improvements to the existing statute will be quickly approved by the Committee and by the Senate. We look forward to working with you on this legislation, and, on behalf of the more than 325,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I thank you again for being our champion on this critical officer safety issue. Please feel free to call on me or Executive Director Jim Pasco if I can be of any further assistance.

Sincerely,

Chuck Canterbury
National President