On July 22, President Bush signed into law H.R. 218, titled “the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.” This legislation allows off-duty and retired officers to carry concealed weapons throughout the country.

In order to become exempt from state or local laws that would otherwise restrict carrying concealed weapons, the Act lays out criteria that must be met by active and retired law enforcement officers. These individuals must be either a “qualified law enforcement officer” or a “qualified retired law enforcement officer,” as defined by the Act. Also, they must carry official identification, which is specified in the Act.

Qualified Active and Retired Officers:
Specific criteria are laid out to establish who may be a “qualified law enforcement officer” and who may be a “qualified retired law enforcement officer.” For instance, among the criteria for exemption of active law enforcement officers is the provision that they are not the current subjects of disciplinary action. Also, the Act requires that active officers must have met the employer’s standards for firearm qualification.

Criteria for qualified retired law enforcement officers include a provision that the retirement occurred in “good standing.” Retired officers must have held law enforcement employment for an aggregate minimum of 15 years or have retired due to a service-connected injury. The Act specifies that qualified retired officers must also meet the State’s standards for training and qualification of active law enforcement officers. There is no provision permitting the application of local agency standards to establish status as a “qualified retired law enforcement officers.”

Identification and Certification:
Active officers carrying firearms pursuant to this Act must also have in their possession photographic identification issued by the governmental agency for which the individual is employed as a law enforcement officer. Retired officers must possess official identification as well. Identification for retired officers must be issued by the agency from which the individual retired. It must be accompanied by certification, by the agency or the State of the retiree’s residence, that the individual has, within the past year, met either the agency’s or the State’s firearm standards for training and qualification of active law enforcement officers. This provision appears to be in conflict with criteria set forth to establish qualified retired law enforcement officers status, which does not permit use of any other benchmark for firearm qualification than the State’s standard for training and qualification of active law enforcement officers.

Absent a state standard for the training and qualification of active law enforcement officers, it would appear that the provisions of H.R. 218 relating to retired officers cannot be implemented. MCOLES and many of our counterpart agencies in other states have not identified a single firearm assessment for qualification of active law enforcement officers. Indeed, many Michigan agencies use the MCOLES entry-level standard, which academy trainers must meet to successfully complete recruit training, yet others find difference courses of fire more appropriate to meet agency training and qualification needs for active officers.

Given that Michigan currently does not have an in-service training standard for firearm qualification of incumbent law enforcement officers, MCOLES faces several challenges. Can a single standard serve the interests of both active and retired law enforcement officers? What liability issues for the officers, active or retired, and for the State, accompany this type of program? What type of training standard could be used to limit liability exposure? For the individual? For the State?

We have received many inquiries from law enforcement leaders, active law enforcement personnel, and retired officers requesting clarification of the intent of this legislation. Moreover, we have received requests from retired officers asking us to expedite implementation of this Act. In that any Commission action relative to this matter holds potential for impact on every Michigan law enforcement agency as well as all active and retired Michigan law enforcement officers, the Commission has resolved to study its options closely. We note that many of our counterpart agencies across the country are taking a cautious approach.

The Commission has sought counsel from the Attorney General to clarify the conflicting language in H.R. 218. To the extent that State law may facilitate resolution, the Commission will consult with the legislature. Finally, the Commission plans to convene a committee of subject matter experts to examine firearms standard options and alternatives that might be employed pursuant to this legislation.