Neighborhood patrols ponder gun use after Zimmerman case

Barring guns from civilian patrols is a legal gray area since most U.S. citizens have the legal right to bear arms, said Kenneth Novak, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who has studied watch programs.

Local watch groups, as private entities, are on relatively firm legal ground in setting no-weapons policies for their members, Novak said, but law enforcement agencies mandating such rules could run the risk of exceeding their authority.

“People participating in neighborhood watch enjoy all the legal protections under the Constitution, as well as state and federal law,” said Novak. “That can include carrying a weapon.”

Jeffrey Dehan, a sergeant who advises neighborhood watch groups as part of his duties with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state, says it is not their role to offer guidance on whether members should carry a weapon.

“We don’t advocate ‘should or shouldn’t,'” he said.