The BLM dispute in Nevada has prompted a Republican congressman to call for the defunding of “paramilitary units” attached to federal governmental agencies.
Representative Chris Stewart (Utah) stated during an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune that he is researching ways to cut funding for law enforcement divisions he has dubbed “paramilitary units” at agencies such as the BLM, USPS, FDA and EPA.
Stewart wants federal officials to rely upon local law enforcement departments when the need for an armed response arises. The lawmaker is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“There are lots of people who are really concerned when the BLM shows up with its own SWAT team,” said Stewart. “They’re regulatory agencies; they’re not paramilitary units, and I think that concerns a lot of us. They should do what anyone else would do. Call the local sheriff, who has the capability to intervene in situations like that.” Stewart is a freshman lawmaker who is currently seeking his second term.
Republican Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky) also stated a similar belief during a radio interview with WHAS of Louisville. Paul said the government should not have “48 federal agencies carrying weapons and having SWAT teams.”
There are currently about 300 law enforcement officers under the direction of the BLM, according to Interior Department representative Jessica Kershaw. The Bureau of Land Management armed agents “provide support on 245 million acres of public land,” although Kershaw maintained that the BLM does not possess “SWAT or tactical teams.” She also said the Interior Department division partners and coordinates with local policing agencies to “leverage limited resources.”
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Clinton administration BLM Director Patrick Shea also weighed in on the issue with the Utah newspaper. Shea said that while Stewart’s notion of partnering with local law enforcement agencies is worth considering, there are also good reasons why the United States had not consolidated the policing agencies under a single umbrella.
“We come up against the old adage: Be careful what you wish for,” Shea said. “Besides the military, we could end up with a national police force. That could make black helicopters look like biplanes.”
The Stewart bill proposal would likely apply to not just the BLM armed agents but to their counterparts at the IRS, Social Security and other federal agencies as well. Last year in Alaska, 40 armed agents from the EPA conducted a raid over alleged environmental infractions.
According to a 2012 Justice Department report, federal agencies employ approximately 120,000 staffers authorized to carry firearms.
While the Utah Republican did not publicly pick a side in the Bundy ranch standoff, he did say he was shocked at the response of the federal government and feels the influx of armed agents led to the presence of the civilian militia. The day after Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie served as a negotiator between Cliven Bundy and the BLM, the armed federal agents backed off and returned the cattle.
The New American, which annually rates lawmakers in a “Freedom Index” report, gave Stewart a 60 percent approval rating and Rand Paul a 100 percent rating.
After the Bundy standoff Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said during an interview, “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over,”
I think there’s an opposite thing to what Harry Reid said, and that’s the federal government shouldn’t violate the law. Can everybody decide what the law is on their own? No, there has to be a legal process. But I think there is definitely a philosophic debate over who should own the land. I hope it’ll go through a court. But if it were in a court, I would be siding and wanting to say that look, the states and the individuals in the state should own these lands.
The Bundy ranch standoff is likely not over, and the issues surrounding states’ rights, property rights, paramilitary units at federal agencies, and the ownership of lands by the federal government will possibly evolve into multiple lawsuits and hotly debated campaign issues during the midterm election.
Should federal agencies essentially have “paramilitary units”? Let us know what you think in the comments below.