Expanding the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 makes America safer

Expanding the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 makes America safer
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Arguably one of the most significant accomplishments of the 108th Congress was passage of H.R. 218, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004. This law allows for the right of two identified classes of persons to carry a concealed firearm in any U.S. jurisdiction, regardless of state or local law, with certain exceptions.

Ergo, any “qualified law enforcement officer” or “qualified retired law enforcement officer” may legally carry a concealed firearm. Subsequent amendments to the law in 2010 and 2013 expanded the coverage to include law enforcement officers in almost every federal agency, including military police officers.

There are fairly strict guidelines contained within the law that define “qualified,” as pertains to retired law enforcement personnel. To enjoy the benefit of concealed carry privilege, retired officers must have been separated from service in good standing. Alcohol impairment, prohibition by federal law from firearms ownership, and any mental health issues forfeit this privilege.


Beneficiaries of the law must also submit to annual firearms training.

So, why is a law like this so useful? Well, in a country of some 323 million inhabitants, and with approximately 1.1 million active law enforcement personnel, armed peacemakers comprise just 0.34 percent of the populace.

By arming retired law enforcement personnel, it increases likelihood that a “good guy with a gun” is more readily available to confront a “bad guy with a gun” (or bomb or vehicle-with-intent-to-ram), in a country where terrorism and mass shootings are consistent threats.

However, the fine print contained within H.R. 218 outlines some fairly significant restrictions. For one, the carriage of concealed firearms by qualified retired law enforcement is prohibited on planes, trains, and cruise ships. This is the “common carrier” exemption. Federal statutes and particular carrier policy have primacy.

Qualified active duty personnel can also be restricted, when off-duty, in certain venues, such as: U.S. federal facilities (to include post office buildings), national parks, gun-free school zones, bars, private clubs, amusement parks, and sports arenas.

Before I retired from the FBI’s New York City Office, I attended an NBA playoff game at the Barclays Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena in Brooklyn, New York. An FBI colleague of mine had warned me ahead of time that the arena had a very strict concealed carry policy. Even active duty law enforcement were affected.

So I placed a telephone call to the arena’s security chief beforehand. She patiently explained that despite being active duty FBI, I would be forced to travel to the NYPD’s 78th precinct, a few blocks away, and secure my sidearm in a lockbox. After the game, I could retrieve it with the receipt that the desk sergeant would kindly provide me.

This stripped me of my duty sidearm while at the event, and while traveling on foot between the venue and police precinct. Having spent over two decades investigating violent street gangs and Mafiosi in New York City, and as an undercover agent on innumerable criminal cases in the area, this made me feel vulnerable, and made no sense.

If we have learned anything from the constantly shifting tactics of the modern terrorist, it is that the "when" and "where" a domestic or international terrorist elects to attack are impossible to predict. For counterterror preparedness, what remains is a 24/7 anytime, anyplace, anywhere, impossible-to-fully-protect, dizzying array of potential targets.

With terrorist tactics, there is no stasis. Sun Tzu described warfare’s commonality with water --- there being no “constant conditions” in warfare, just as water retains no constant shape. So too is the paradigm of modern terrorism.

As we harden targets like convention halls, sporting events, and airline flights, the “bad guys” adjust.

Luggage screening eliminated the chances of introducing a bomb in checked baggage. More robust screening by TSA reduced the risk of a 9/11 style attack with rudimentary edged weapons in order to use the plane itself as a missile.

Aspiring terrorists subsequently recalibrated by targeting the large crowds that congregate at ticket check-in counters or in the baggage carousel area. These places are typically lightly patrolled and accessible to everyone. A congested queue makes a most appealing target.

A perfect example of this adjustment is the ISIL-claimed attack at an airport in Brussels, Belgium, in March of 2016 that killed thirty-two and injured some 300.

The magnetometers, wandings, and pat-downs standard at most concert arenas result in adjustments like the one made by one jihadist in Manchester, England. He patiently waited outside of an Ariana Grande concert, then detonated a suicide vest that killed twenty-two innocents and injured over 500 more.

The Las Vegas shooter simply assumed an elevated perch from a hotel room that overlooked the Route 91 Harvest music festival to avoid security screening at the event.

Vehicular attacks like the one in Lower Manhattan on Halloween, concentrate on “soft targets” like a crowded Manhattan bike path.

And less than a month ago, a suicide bomber attempted to set off his homemade pipe bomb device in a walkway below the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan.

Since sworn law enforcement make up only 0.34 percent of our population, it is important to consider this: cops typically work eight hour shift tours, which means that only a third of America’s law enforcement personnel are armed, available, and on-duty at any one time. This translates to an infinitesimal 0.11 percent of our population.

Restrict off duty and retired law enforcement personnel from entering a venue while in possession of a firearm and you hamper more expedient responses to attacks.

It is not only affects the particular prohibited venue, but also the incalculable locations in-between. Those traveling to a restricted site, or taking an airline flight,  must elect to leave their firearm at home for the duration of travel, and any events prior to and following visitation to a restricted venue.

H.R. 218 is not a panacea. It is not the be-all and end-all of improved security implementations to guarantee our 100 percent safety in a free society that treasures its protection of civil liberties.

But, in a country where exists one firearm for every man, woman, and child, please don’t remove weapons from the skilled hands of those trained and committed to run towards danger.

I implore the 115th Congress to expand the provisions of H.R. 218 now.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.