Contributor, The Volokh Conspiracy

Last week, I blogged about the Nassau County (New York) D.A.’s policy banning prosecutors from owning handguns. The ban wasn’t limited to forbidding prosecutors from carrying handguns on the job, or carrying them in public. Rather, it applied to all ownership and possession, including at home, at private shooting ranges, and so on. In the days since then, quite a few media outlets have covered this policy, most prominently Fox News.

I’m delighted to report that the policy has just been changed. Here’s the memo that the Nassau County D.A.’s office just sent out, with a cover e-mail saying that this is “our office’s updated policy on handguns for attorneys, which is effective immediately”:

To: Madeline Singas, Acting District Attorney
From: Albert Teichman, Chief Assistant District Attorney
Date: September 30, 2015
Re: Handgun Ownership by Assistant District Attorneys

You requested a review of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office policy established in 2006 restricting handgun ownership by Assistant District Attorneys.

History:

In 2006, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office established a policy prohibiting its prosecutors from owning handguns, absent special permission from the District Attorney. Many neighboring jurisdictions impose handgun restrictions on Assistant District Attorneys.

This policy was established to absolutely avoid the dangers posed by armed, ununiformed lawyers working in charged situations like crime scenes, with other armed law enforcement, without proper firearms training, to prevent friendly fire tragedies like those that have occurred in recent years in Nassau County and neighboring jurisdictions. Including:

* In 2006, off-duty NYPD Officer Eric Hernandez was shot and killed by an on-duty officer after attempting to apprehend suspects who had attacked him.

* On January 25, 2008, off-duty Mt. Vernon, New York, Police Department Officer Christopher Ridley was shot and killed by officers from another department while Ridley was holding a suspect.

* On May 28, 2009, off-duty New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Omar Edwards was shot and killed by another officer as Edwards was in foot pursuit of a suspect who had broken into Edwards’s car.

In 2009, Governor David A. Paterson established the Task Force on Police on Police Shootings, which recommended, among other things additional training and protocols for police officers to prevent future friendly fire tragedies.

Even though the recommendations of the Task Force were well received, additional friendly fire tragedies followed in Nassau County, specifically:

* On March 12, 2011, plainclothes Nassau County Police Officer Geoffrey Breitkopf was killed by an MTA Police officer at an active crime scene in Massapequa Park.

* On December 31, 2011, off-duty ATF Special Agent John Capano was killed in a friendly-fire incident involving a retired Nassau County Police Department Lieutenant and off-duty NYPD Officer during a pharmacy robbery.

The policy’s scope is limited to handguns, and imposed no restriction on shotguns and rifles.

Analysis: Upon review, the public safety interests served by the policy can be substantially effectuated though a less-restrictive means that does not preclude ADAs from owning handguns, but strictly prohibits work-related possession and use.

Proposed New Policy: Under the proposed new policy, attached, ADAs are strictly prohibited from carrying or possessing a weapon any time they are working, including, but not limited to work in the DA’s office, courthouses, crime scenes, witness interviews, meetings with other agencies, without the express written permission of the District Attorney or the District Attorney’s authorized designee. Any Assistant DA who owns a handgun must supply a copy of all licensure and registration documentation to the DA’s office. Violations of this policy may result in termination.

Threats Against ADAs: Any ADA who becomes aware of any threat against her or him is encouraged to immediately report that threat to the District Attorney or Chief Investigator, or to call 911 for emergency assistance. All threats are taken seriously, investigated fully, and employees of the DA’s office will be provided with all appropriate protection.

NCDA Policy Change

To: Nassau County Assistant District Attorneys
From: Albert J. Teichman, Chief Assistant District Attorney
Date: September 30, 2015
Re: Handgun Ownership and Possession by Prosecutors

Effective immediately, please advised of the following change in the policy of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office regarding ownership and possession of handguns by Assistant District Attorneys. This policy supersedes any previous policy.

Handgun Ownership and Possession by Assistant District Attorneys:

It is the policy of the Nassau County District Attorney’s office that Assistant District Attorneys are strictly prohibited from carrying or possessing a weapon any time they are working, including, but not limited to work in the DA’s office, courthouses, crime scenes, witness interviews and meetings with other agencies, without the express written permission of the District Attorney of the District Attorney’s authorized designee.

Assistant District Attorneys are permitted to own and possess a legally registered handgun in their homes or for legally permitted activity unrelated to their employment and workplace. Any Assistant District Attorney who as a result of this policy change acquires a handgun is encouraged to take a firearm safety course.

Any Assistant District Attorney who owns handgun must supply a copy of all licensure and registration documentation to the DA’s office. Violations of this policy may result in termination.

Threats Against Assistant District Attorneys:

Any Assistant District Attorney who becomes of any threat against her or him is encouraged to immediately report that threat to the District Attorney or Chief Investigator or to call 911 for emergency assistance. All threats are taken seriously, investigated fully, and employees of the DA’s office will be provided with all appropriate protection.

Questions should be directed to the Chief Assistant District Attorney.

UPDATE: The version of the policy that I first got from the DA’s office was apparently not quite the final one; I’ve replaced it with the final one. The only substantive change was the addition of the paragraph that raeds, “Assistant District Attorneys are permitted to own and possess a legally registered handgun in their homes or for legally permitted activity unrelated to their employment and workplace. Any Assistant District Attorney who as a result of this policy change acquires a handgun is encouraged to take a firearm safety course.”