Dec 122016
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Loyola University received more bad publicity this past week when it was accused of discriminating against one of their students on the basis of his profession. He was a cop.

It occurred this past Wednesday when Sergeant Josh Collins of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office attended a class in “Law and Morality” dressed in SWAT fatigues. He’d been attending classes there in criminal justice for eight years and normally wore plainclothes but didn’t that day because he was too busy to change. He was also openly wearing his sidearm.

In a lengthy Facebook post on the subject, Sgt. Collins explained what happened next: “Shortly after my arrival, a fellow classmate complained to the professor of their uncomfortableness of having an armed police officer in the class. Mind you, I have sat in the same class for the last six weeks in civilian clothing.”

“My professor then called the police,” Sgt. Collins continued. “Of course I was not privileged to either of these conversations as they took place behind my back. My professor then pulled me out of class and told me that he had called the police based on the student complaint [.]”

“The police obviously never came and told him over the phone that I was perfectly within the law.”

Loyola subsequently issued a statement contradicting some aspects of Sgt. Collins’ account. First, it claimed that the complaining student didn’t realize he was a police officer because of his SWAT fatigues. Secondly, it claimed that only university police were contacted to verify school policy, and that it was they who asked the professor to verify that Collins was law enforcement.

Irrespectively, one can understand why Sgt. Collins felt that he was being singled out. A person in SWAT fatigues would normally be presumed to be law enforcement, and a great many cops these days tend to feel that they’re being socially pilloried.

“As a police officer,” Sgt. Collins explained, “I feel as though I must hide my profession in order to obtain a fair education.”

Discrimination on the basis of occupation is a real thing, although it is generally illegal, if frowned upon. Lawyers like myself are often discriminated against in housing because it is believed that we’re quick on the trigger to sue – and then we prove it, by suing the people who discriminate against us.

Levity aside, police concern about discrimination is an old trope. In one old episode of ‘Dragnet’ from the late 60’s, fictional LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday was attending night classes when he witnessed a fellow student in possession of illegal narcotics and arrested him, as department policy required.

Friday’s professor found out and was livid, accusing him of staking out the class and violating the privacy of those around him. The professor tried to remove Friday from the class, and even put the matter up to a class vote, only to have one student who happened to be a lawyer point out that it was illegal under California law to force Friday out of class based on his profession.

With the recent incident at Loyola, however, the issues are not so stark. There are no state or local anti-discrimination laws I am personally aware of that would protect Sgt. Collins. Furthermore, he was ultimately given special treatment insofar as it wasn’t actually legal for him to carry on Loyola’s campus.

You see, Loyola University abuts Holy Name of Jesus School, a primary school. As I’ve pointed out previously, the federal Gun Free School Zones Act bars possession of a firearm within a 1,000 feet radius of a primary or secondary school. Off-duty police officers are not exempt. Because pretty much all of Loyola’s main campus falls within 1,000 feet of Holy Name, it is technically illegal for Collins to carry there.

The ultimate truth is that Sgt. Collins ultimately received preferential treatment based upon his profession, even if the original complaint was driven by prejudice against cops.

Police certainly do experience ill-treatment based on their profession, but they also receive widespread dispensation even when their conduct is illegal. Ordinary citizens don’t get that consideration, particularly with respect to firearms. The bottom line is that If Collins hadn’t been a cop, he’d probably be in jail.

The Louisiana Supreme Court recognized in State v. Nelson, 367 So. 2d 317, 318 (La. 1979), that “[t]he carrying of an unconcealed weapon is not a special privilege or advantage enjoyed by a police officer.” Rather, “[e]ach citizen is guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms not concealed on his person.” The reality, however, is generally assumed to be the opposite.

I understand that police are sensitive to attacks on their profession of late, and certainly the prospect of a policeman being harassed about wearing a firearm on a college campus is fodder for that. However, the greater indignity is being arrested, not merely confronted, and that it an affront more typically reserved for you and me.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  18 Responses to “Owen Courreges: Don’t take your guns to Loyola class, son; leave your guns at home”

  1. Wonder how these students would feel if some rifle/pistol toting maniac came in their class with the intent of killing as many students as he could?

    • They probably wouldn’t like that, but I don’t see how to prevent it with regulations. Presumably a mass killer isn’t going to be deterred by restrictions on carrying on college campuses.

      • The truth is that neither gun free zones nor heavily armed open carry zones would prevent mass shooters. As long as we live in a country where a mentally unstable person can easily access powerful firearms, there is no preventing mass shooting events.

        It is often stated that “liberals” who don’t like gun violence base their regulative proposals on fantasy. Maybe. But pro-gun advocates also promote a fantasy, which is that more guns in public spaces solves the problem. That is obviously not true. Gun-saturated public spaces only lead to more shoot outs that endanger as many lives as they save.

        Pragmatic gun sense advocates try to limit guns in public because it is the only allowable solution to an obvious problem: anyone who wants to shoot up a place can do so with ease. It’s true that mass shooters do not rationally calculate the risk of being arrested based on laws, but they also do not rationally avoid spaces with a higher risk of a shoot out. They are not rational actors, and they don’t care about either preventive mechanism. These people welcome gun battles.

        We live in a society with 300 millions guns. This means people are going to get shot to death every day, over and over.

        • Nonsense. I won’t go into detail, because I have in the past, but suffice to say that trying to control gun violence by controlling gun owners generally is a losing battle.

  2. Yawn.

  3. Re: “… the federal Gun Free School Zones Act bars possession of a firearm within a 1,000 feet radius of a primary or secondary school. Off-duty police officers are not exempt.”

    I hope the Trump administration helps this act fall like a lead balloon. In fact, I would much prefer if capable well-trained staff carried concealed weapons on campus. Crazy? Not at all. And I am not the only one to feel this way. Even in a liberal state such as California there are several school districts that allow this. (See links below)

    Everyone agrees that we want to protect our children while in school. It is ime to put our money where our mouth is. Allow the sheepdogs to protect our precious yet most vulnerable flocks.

  4. In the meantime, I believe it is legal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a lawyer based on his occupation in the State of Louisiana.

  5. I agree with you.

    Although it looks like you may have meant to write “legal, if frowned upon” rather than “illegal, if frowned upon.”

  6. Did Sgt. Collins do anything wrong? No. Did the student do anything wrong? Yes. Did the teacher do anything wrong? Yes. Luckily, Loyola issued a statement in support of Sgt. Collins rather than parroting an anti-police agenda.

  7. Part vi exempts an officer acting in his or or her official capacity. An officer traveling to or from a shift would also fall under this exemption. Even broader is the exemption under part ii.

    18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A)(ii) if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located or a political subdivision of the State, and the law of the State or political subdivision requires that, before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license;

    So lets end the prevarication presented that said officer was breaking the law. What a bizarre failed attempt to do so as you use a STATE case to explain how you believe the officer violated FEDERAL law. They are two different things, you know.

    • Bayou,

      A police officer who is not on duty is not acting in an official capacity, and in any event, Sgt. Collins was not travelling to or from work – he was traveling to and from a class. None of that exempts him from the GFSZA.

      • But his class may have been on his way from work to home. And you wouldn’t want him to leave the gun in his vehicle, as it is more likely to be stolen and end up in the wrong hands.

  8. “the complaining student didn’t realize he was a police officer because of his SWAT fatigues.” Stupid student, plain and simple.

  9. “[T]he federal Gun Free School Zones Act bars possession of a firearm within a 1,000 feet radius of a primary or secondary school” — another example of incompetent lawmakers creating laws that are not only unenforceable, but also impossible for citizens to comply with. What is a person carrying a firearm legally in his or her car to do when driving on Uptown streets where many schools are within inches of the public street? And how do the Feds measure the 1,000 ft radius? From the center of the school building, the exterior wall of any school building, or the property line? How am I supposed to know where every school is? There must be 25 schools in Uptown New Orleans. How am I supposed to know where the school’s property lines are? Ridiculous.

  10. The professor, in responding to the student’s concerns, did exactly what he what was supposed to. He referred the matter to the University police who made the final call on the matter. I didn’t read anything about the officer not being allowed back into class, or not being allowed to further pursue his education. As such, I fail to see how he suffered any actual harm. It seems the real issue is that Collins, because he is a member of law enforcement, feels that he above having to answer questions. It should be remembered that Loyola is a private institution. This means that it is free, by law, to set its own policy and rules, as it sees fit. University faculty and staff have far greater concerns than coddling one student, who feels entitled simply based on his profession.

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