Honolulu, HI - Following New Jersey's recently-revised ban on police officers possessing guns, new attention has been brought to states with strict gun laws for law enforcement officers.
Standing out from the rest of the states is Hawaii, with their years-long refusal to recognize the provisions of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA).
LEOSA was “designed to protect officers and their families from vindictive criminals, and to allow thousands of equipped, trained and certified law enforcement officers, whether on-duty, off-duty or retired, to carry concealed firearms in situations where they can respond immediately to a crime across state and other jurisdictional lines.”
The purpose of the law was to pre-empt states from restricting the type of ammunition that officers could carry off duty, and allow them to carry their weapons in any state without running afoul of any state laws.
Hawaii's attorney general's office says that the federal law doesn't actually pre-empt state law.
According to Hawaii's Department of the Attorney General, if police officers from out of state are not on duty, then they are not actually considered to be police officers and LEOSA doesn't apply to them.
"If you are not on official duty with your governmental law enforcement agency and you are carrying a concealed firearm pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 926B, you are not considered a 'law enforcement officer' in the State of Hawaii. The Hawaii Revised Statutes will be applied to you as if you were a 'civilian' with no law enforcement powers," the state Attorney General memo says.
But even if a law enforcement officer is on duty, they aren't in the clear. That's because the state doesn't recognize that LEOSA can supersede state law, so on-duty officers need to comply with state law in order to carry their guns in Hawaii.
That means if an on-duty officer is in possession of a gun in the state for more than 5 days, they are required to register their gun with the chief of police in the county where they are staying. They also may not possess a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
If the on-duty out-of-state officer is stopped by a local police officer, the local officer may take possession of the other officer's weapon until the out-of-state officer's agency can verify that they are on official duty.
U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-Nebraska) attempted to pass amendments to LEOSA to address improper interpretations, but the amendments died with the end of the 115th Congress.