Contumacious Responses to Firearms Legislation Balancing Federalism Concerns

Royce de R. Barondes, University of Missouri School of Law


The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (“LEOSA”) is one of the handful of federal statutes that preempt state firearms regulation. It allows covered individuals (certain current and retired qualified law enforcement personnel) to possess firearms notwithstanding assorted state restrictions — to protect themselves and to supplement local law enforcement efforts.

The act reflects a careful legislative balancing of federalism concerns. Although it relies on states and localities to issue the authorizing credentials, it does not mandate states create a licensing regime out of whole cloth. The act ultimately presents issues requiring a nuanced assessment of the doctrine proscribing federal commandeering of the states. This Article probes the interpretation of LEOSA and the federalism issues raised by the act.

Some state responses to LEOSA seem contumacious. Many judicial approaches seem hostile to recognizing the rights sought to be created by the act.

In numerous ways, through patent violations and more debatable ones, states and their subdivisions have fettered the rights LEOSA appears to seek to grant. And there are federal administrative and local governmental interpretations coordinating the scope of LEOSA and the Gun-Free School Zones Act that are not required by customary principles of statutory interpretation and that significantly curtail LEOSA’s efficacy.

The reluctance to recognize federally secured firearms rights is not limited to executive branch officials. Interpretation of the nuanced manner in which LEOSA endeavors to respect federalism principles has yielded miserly judicial interpretations, aberrant in the portfolio of authority construing civil rights.