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Kennedy On The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act

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When the "Law Enforcement Officers' Safety Act" was first considered by the Committee, I opposed it. I continue to oppose it, because I feel it actually undermines the safety of our communities, endangers our police officers, and interferes with the essential role of police departments across the nation. Unfortunately, this year's bill fails to correct the serious problems of the original law. It makes matters worse, by haphazardly putting more guns on the streets.

The officers who put their lives on the line for us deserve respect and protection themselves in our communities. I have yet to hear a detailed explanation of why this bill is necessary. The original Act took away the ability of state and local police departments to enforce rules and policies on when and how their own officers can carry weapons. If there is going to be a change in the Act, we should be giving back to local police the power to run their own departments.

Every community in this country is different. Yet the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act treats them as if they were all the same. Under this law, a local police department no longer has the ability to deny a concealed carry permit. In fact, this bill further undermines local law enforcement by reducing the number of years a person must spend as a law enforcement officer before they can obtain a permit.

Local law enforcement agencies need the right to control who can carry a concealed weapon in their jurisdiction. Yet, this bill lowers the standard so that individuals with only 10 years of duty - rather than 15 - can carry a concealed weapon.

By reducing the standard to 10 years, the measure drastically expands the number
of retired law enforcement officers who can carry a concealed weapon. No one, however, seems to be able to answer the basic question of how many officers that will include. Such rash changes -- without any empirical demonstration of a need to change the law -- coupled with the lack of hearings on the bill, is dangerous and irresponsible. This change makes absolutely no sense and there is no explanation for it.

Police departments train their officers to respond as a team. Such teamwork takes time and understanding to develop. Injecting an armed, unknown officer who is working on different assumptions can turn a dangerous situation into a deadly one. The idea that this law would prevent more crimes because more concealed weapons are being carried by less trained and less regulated out-of-state, off-duty, and retired officers is ridiculous.

There is no justification for making it easier for retired law enforcement officers to override gun-safety laws. This bill does not require a showing of need for a concealed weapon. It does not even draw a distinction between officers who served ably and those who did not. Officers who retired while under investigation for domestic violence, racial profiling, use of excessive force, or alcohol or substance abuse could still qualify for the broad concealed carry authority under the Act. There is no evidence that this law is necessary to protect retired law enforcement officers.

There are many sensible things Congress can do to protect citizens from gun violence. In 2004, we moved in the wrong direction by enacting the original concealed carry bill and taking away the ability of States to decide the needs of its communities in terms of who should carry a concealed weapon. Each State should be able to make its own judgment about whether private citizens can carry concealed weapons and the standards for when active or former law enforcement officers should be able to carry such weapons. There is no reason for Congress to override gun safety measures in any State.

Rather than putting even more guns in the streets, we should be making the current law safer. One way to do so would be a requirement that all police departments report who can carry a concealed weapon. How can a local police officer verify when an out of state officer has a license under the Act? There is currently no way of knowing, because there is no uniform way of identifying who can lawfully carry a concealed weapon under the Act.

In addition to undermining the discretion of state and local law enforcement departments, this legislation is an insult to our public safety. Under the law, there is already dangerous ambiguity and uncertainty when a police officer stops someone carrying a concealed weapon. If the person claims permission to carry a concealed gun under the law, our police on the street have no way to verify the claim. Asking GAO to submit a report on how the law has been implemented is another simple step we could take to help make this law safer instead of more dangerous.

It is understandable that members of the Senate want to take steps to protect America's law enforcement officers. We all do. But by increasing the number of concealed weapons in our communities, we'll see more tragic incidents. Instead of Congress recklessly enacting a bill to put even more guns on the street, we should find acceptable ways for state and local governments to do the job, consistent with their own needs and circumstances. This one-size fits-all, Congress knows best attitude, is a tragic mistake for countless communities across America.

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