In my February 2008 column (“Tactics for Off-Duty Survival,” www.lawofficer.
com/news-and-articles/articles/lom/0402/index.html), I addressed the issue of off-
duty survival. I received quite a few comments about that article—about 99% positive. Most readers agreed with the three threat-analysis concepts (critical; non-critical; and important, but not critical) and the tactical decision-making issues outlined in that piece. A small percentage of readers felt that officers are on duty 24/7/365 and should always intercede when they witness
a crime, regardless of how minor the infraction is. And an even smaller percentage noted that they’d never get involved in an off-duty incident unless they (or their family members) were the victims. This month’s column follows this same theme but focuses instead on one key question related to your off-duty life: Should you always carry a sidearm while off duty?
For the sergeants, lieutenants and other bosses who frequently use the material contained in Law Officer columns as part of your roll-call training (and from what we hear, there are many of you!) and who are inclined to do so with this piece, I suggest that you read Laura Scarry’s excellent January 2009 Legal Eagle column (“HR 218 Preempts South Dakota Prosecution,” www.lawofficer.com/news-and-articles/articles/lom/0501/index.html) and consider merging the two into a lesson plan on the pros and cons of carrying off duty.
Although I’m not going to delve into the specifics of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (commonly referred to as the National Concealed Carry Law or HR 218) or all the subtleties contained therein, I will address some mental and tactical considerations regarding whether you should religiously carry your sidearm while off duty.
I recently came across the book Living with Glocks: The Complete Guide to the New Standard in Combat Handguns by Robert Boatman. At the risk of raising the ire of those anti-Glock officers who are going to accuse me of endorsing a specific brand of handgun, the book isn’t a promotional piece for Glocks, or any other gun manufacturer for that matter. The theme of the book really isn’t important to our discussion, but one chapter really caught my eye.
In Chapter 20, “The Constitutional Right and Social Obligation to Carry a Gun,” Boatman writes, “Carrying a gun is a social responsibility.
A citizen who shirks his duty to contribute to the security of his community is little better than the criminal who threatens it.” Powerful words, indeed. But Boatman wasn’t talking about police officers. And Living with Glocks isn’t really a “cop” book; it’s a book for everyday citizens. But let’s take Boatman’s philosophy one step further.
Whether or not you accept Boatman’s premise that citizens who possess carry permits have a social responsibility to carry all the time, let me ask you this question: How would that theory apply to police officers? If cops are not only authorized to carry a gun, but obligated to do so, why shouldn’t they carry them all the time? That question raises a lot of provocative issues, doesn’t it?
For the purposes of this article, I want to leave out the fact that some cops contend that carrying handguns is an exclusive right that should be bestowed only on police officers. I know a couple of cops who loathe the fact that a lot of private citizens possess carry permits. In fact, they feel so strongly that only cops should be allowed to carry guns that they never even bothered to get a carry permit upon their retirement. “When you’re out, you’re out,” they say. In fact, they had to surrender their off-duty guns when they retired. HR 218 was not on the horizon when they pulled the pin, and carrying a concealed handgun post-retirement wasn’t even a consideration for them.
One cop told me, “An 870 with double-aught buck is enough to protect my home.” This may be true, but a shotgun doesn’t fit into an inside-the-belt paddle holster real well. I could never understand that mindset, especially because New York wasn’t a gun-friendly state when I retired and carry permits weren’t handed out as easily as they are now. You had to list the reason you wanted to carry a gun and the type of gun you wanted to carry on the permit application. If you wrote “target shooting” and the gun was a 2" snub nose Smith, or “personal protection” and your gun was a 7 3/8" barrel Buntline special, “fugetaboutit.” But let’s leave all the political issues out of this discussion. Whether you’re a devoted Second Amendment fan or not, I just want to address the issue of whether active-duty cops should carry a sidearm when they’re off-duty.
Returning to Boatman’s contention, do cops have a social responsibility to carry a handgun 24/7/365? Are cops who choose not to carry while off-duty shirking their responsibility to contribute to the security of their communities? Are they no better than the criminals who might threaten them?
I, for one, carry all the time, except while flying. I’m retired, but the state of Florida has bestowed on me the authority to carry concealed. I do so because I feel more secure with a sidearm on my hip or in my fanny pack. My gun is discreet, small, but omnipresent. My wife and I don’t have small children living at home. And because Florida is a “Castle” and “Stand Your Ground” state, we keep a handgun in both of our nightstands, too. We’re very conscious of the locations, and if we’re visited by friends who have small children, we ensure our home guns are not accessible to probing fingers or curious minds.
Because I’m not on the job any more, I have to think long and hard about the three threat-analysis issues regarding off-duty survival that I discussed in my February 2008 Tactics column, even though I’m covered by the LEOSA as a “qualified retired law enforcement officer,” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 926B and 926C. For example, I wouldn’t hesitate to defend myself or my family in the face of a deadly threat. That instinct has become second nature to me because of my training and experience. Nor would I hesitate to assist a cop who needed immediate assistance in the throes of a violent fight—after properly identifying myself, of course. I’d come to the aid of a citizen, too, if I witnessed an actual life-or-death altercation.
Those are probably the only times I can think of when I’d release ol’ Roscoe from the confines of my Leading Edge fanny pack or Mitch Rosen strong-side paddle holster. But I realize that the vast majority of you are still on the job. So there may be times when you feel a need to take action, where an old retired dude like me wouldn’t. Most citizens’ arrests have to be based on first-hand knowledge of a violent crime—not the more liberal probable cause to believe standard that cops are governed by.
FBI stats show that states that have “shall-issue” right-to-carry laws have lower violent crime rates than those that don’t. Presently, there are close to a million active-duty cops (federal, state and local) in the country; only a fraction of them are on duty at any one time. But the thought of having just a portion of that million-strong armed police force out there or 1 million pairs of eyes, ears, fists and guns at the ready in the event Joe Badguy should ever feel the need to rape, pummel or pillage his way through your community has to be a comforting thought. But I digress; let’s get back to our discussion.
Ask Yourself …
Do you, as a cop, have a social responsibility to carry a handgun off duty? Do you, as a sworn officer, have a duty and obligation to contribute to the security of your community simply by
being armed while off duty, ready to intercede if a citizen or your community needs you to? Are you, as a police officer or deputy sheriff, shirking your responsibility to your community because you choose not to carry a weapon off duty? And are you no better than the criminal who might threaten it simply because you went 10-7 at 1900 and are off for two days? Where does your social responsibility to your community end? Is it when you punched out at headquarters? When you arrived home? Does your position as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy and your authority to carry a gun compel you to a higher community standard? And if that’s just too much to think about, try this one on: What’s your responsibility to your family? Are you, a highly trained marksman who is authorized to carry a gun, neglecting their safety because you choose not to carry a gun while off duty? Where does your responsibility to their safety end? After pondering those questions, does that change your mindset about carrying off duty?
Until next month, stay safe!