Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Lawsuit by Former Prison Guards to Win Right to Carry Firearms Reinstated After D.C. Federal Court Reverses Summary Judgment

by Lonnie Burton

On June 3, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a D.C. District Court ruling which had granted summary judgment to the government and dismissed a claim filed by former prison guards who had sought the right to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

This case began when four retired District of Columbia and Maryland state prison guards sued the local D.C. government, claiming they were unlawfully denied the right to carry a concealed weapon. According to the guards, they, as "former corrections officers," qualify for that right under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), 18 U.S.C. Sect. 926C. The LEOSA gives both active and retired "qualified law enforcement officers" the right to carry a concealed weapon in the United States upon meeting certain conditions.

Those conditions include that the individual must have had at least ten years’ service in good standing with a law enforcement agency and had the power to make arrests. According to the guards' complaint, they frequently travel across state lines and encounter former prisoners who often make threats to them, and thus wanted to carry firearms as protection.

When the guards applied for their concealed weapons permits under LEOSA, they discovered the statute further required them to obtain firearms certification. To obtain that certification, the District of Columbia and Prince George's County, Maryland, where the guards reside, require a formal "Certification of Prior Law Enforcement Employment" before they can receive firearms training from a certified instructor. But when the guards sought to obtain the certification from their former employers, they were denied on the ground they did not qualify under LEOSA because D.C. law gave prison guards neither law enforcement status or the power to make arrests.

The guards sued, and the D.C. District Court dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim on the ground that "LEOSA does not unambiguously create the individual right that Plaintiffs seek to enforce." On appeal, the case went to the D.C. Circuit Court, which reversed.

In doing so, the appellate court focused on LEOSA's language defining "law enforcement officer" and "power of arrest." In LEOSA, Congress "defined 'law enforcement officer' broadly, to include individuals who engage in or supervise incarceration." The Circuit Court also found that "power of arrest" was not necessarily limited to police power of arrest, but could include other statutory arrest powers such as the power to arrest parole violators. Based on that language, the D.C. Circuit held that the district court had erred in dismissing the guard's complaint.

The court also found that LEOSA created a "concrete, individual right to benefit" which the guards could assert in a 42 U.S.C. Sect. 1983 claim. "Understood as an individual right defined by federal law, the LEOSA concealed-carry right that appellants allege Congress intended for them to have is remedial under Section 1983."

The court found that the guards did in fact state a colorable claim of a deprivation of an individual right, reversed the district court, and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Duberry v. District of Columbia, No. 15-7062 (D.C. Cir. June 3, 2016).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Duberry v. District of Columbia