Legislation would assist law enforcement in rural communities; garners support of local sheriffs
This week, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) introduced H.R. 1501, the Police Officers Protecting Children Act, which would allow off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm while in a school zone if a local school passes a policy allowing it. This added layer of security for schoolchildren is particularly important in rural areas because it allows for a quicker response to help rural law enforcement, whose resources are spread thin and who often have longer distances to drive when responding to an emergency.
“If a school wants to allow trustworthy retired or off-duty police officers to protect their children, the federal government shouldn’t stop them,” Hartzler said. “The Police Officers Protecting Children Act allows local schools to authorize experienced off-duty or retired officers to carry a firearm in a school zone for the safety of their students. This is especially important for schools in our rural communities where law enforcement may take a significant amount of time to respond to an emergency.”
“A well-placed retired or off-duty officer could save lives,” Hartzler added. Hartzler further noted that the bill eliminates a federal barrier, respecting the rights of local school boards to choose whether they want these law enforcement officers to be armed within their school zone.
“Not allowing current law enforcement officers, or qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry weapons at schools simply puts children’s lives at risk,” said Laclede County Sheriff David Millsap. “Officers routinely put themselves in harm’s way during their shift and that commitment does not stop at the end of shift. Retired law enforcement officers are too valuable of a resource to be put on shelf. Let the professionals continue to protect our children on or off duty.”
“I would be in favor of this bill,” said Pulaski County Sheriff Jimmy Bench. “There are a lot of retirees and off-duty officers who would like to have this opportunity to protect our children, but have not had the ability. This would be an asset to our communities, and it would give our retirees a chance to continue their service beyond retirement.”
Hartzler got the idea for this bill from one of her constituents, Kenny Goth, a retired 36-year veteran police officer from the Clinton Missouri Police Department. Despite decades of work protecting his community, and annual testing and requalification with a firearm, once Goth retired he was prohibited from using his training to protect his grandchildren when he visited them at school. The same police officer who spent a lifetime protecting our schoolchildren should be able to continue to protect them.
“Congresswoman Hartzler’s bill will give retired police officers the chance to look after their own,” Goth said. “When my grandkids are at events after school with huge crowds and no security, as a former law enforcement officer, it makes me uncomfortable. The schools are tight on funding, so they can’t hire more resource officers, but retired law enforcement individuals like myself can help. It only makes sense for schools who want to, to let retired or off-duty police officers carry a firearm to protect schoolchildren. I’m pleased the Congresswoman is moving forward on this important bill to help protect our children.”
Hartzler consulted with educators, law enforcement officers, and groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police while drafting this legislation, and they have lent their support to these efforts.
This bill specifically:
Amends the Gun Free School Zones Act to allow off-duty and retired officers to carry a concealed firearm while in a school zone.
Leaves the ultimate choice up to individual school boards.
Places no mandates or additional burdens on schools.
From the Newton shooting to Sandy Hook elementary, we have sadly seen that school violence is a continuing problem we must address. Parents or family friends with law enforcement experience could be armed while attending school events or football games, adding an extra layer of protection for our students.
FAQ on Police Officers Protecting Children Act
Q: Why is this legislation necessary? Can’t police already carry on school grounds?
A: The Gun Free School Zones Act currently permits ON-DUTY officers to carry, but restricts the ability of qualified off-duty and retired officers to protect America’s schoolchildren.
Q: Would this bill allow anyone to carry a firearm within a school zone?
A: No, this bill is narrowly-tailored to only allow qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers the ability to carry on school grounds. It does not permit private citizens the ability to carry on school grounds.
Q: How do you make sure that these officers are capable of handling a firearm, especially after being in retirement?
A: This bill only applies to off-duty and retired law enforcement who are considered “qualified” under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA). For retired officers, they must have 10+ years of service within the law enforcement community, separate in good standing, and requalify with a firearm on a yearly basis. These retired officers are held to the same marksmanship and proficiency standards of their counterparts who are currently serving as law enforcement officers.
Q: Why is it important to allow qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers the ability to carry in a school zone?
A: America’s children deserve all the protections we can afford them. By allowing these dedicated law enforcement professionals to carry while in a school zone, you provide an extra layer of protection for children that federal law currently prohibits.
Q: What if my school does not want to allow people to carry a firearm on school grounds?
A: This legislation keeps an exemption in LEOSA that prohibits the carry of a firearm on state or local property unless express permission is provided. Individual states, localities, and school boards would have to take action to allow officers to exercise their ability to carry on school property.