The Justice Department plans to take an inventory of all the federal agencies whose agents are authorized to carry weapons and make arrests.
The move is apparently aimed at calming Second Amendment activists' fears about gun and ammunition buys by the likes of the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The research will be conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It's not clear when the report will be ready for public viewing.
"It's certainly proper for every agency to have an accurate accounting of what firearms it has," said Dave Workman, communications director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. "After all, these guns don't belong to the agents. They belong to the taxpayers. We paid for that stuff."
The last time the Justice Department conducted such an inventory was in 2008. It found then that the federal government employed about 120,000 armed officials at 73 agencies — four-fifths of whom worked within the Justice Department or for the various branches of the Department of Homeland Security.
The remaining armed officials worked for agencies such as the Railroad Retirement Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, USPS, USDA, and — until just recently — the Library of Congress.
"Hey, if you don't bring that book back, we're coming for you," mocked Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, speaking to The Hill
about the curious gun needs of the Library of Congress.
Recent purchases by federal agencies for their armed units — combined with the anti-gun rhetoric of the Obama administration — have alarmed Second Amendment rights individuals and left them wondering if the federal government has been attempting a back-door attack on gun ownership by gobbling up vast amounts of ammo.
For instance, the USPS posted a notice on its website earlier this year requesting proposals for "small-arms ammunition" purchases. Prior to that, the Social Security Administration requested 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow-point" bullets. And before that, the USDA asked for 320,000 rounds, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 46,000 rounds.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said: "NOAA — really? They have a need?"
The list goes on: The Department of Education's Office of Inspector General has its own armed division, as does the Energy Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Last month the USDA made another request — to buy submachine guns.
Workman said he could understand the need for some of the armed carriers, particularly in the forestry division of the Department of Agriculture where workers often cover 40 acres or more of dense wooded lands that are prime locations for illegal marijuana plots.
"What if they stumble on a pot growth where somebody starts shooting at them? They have to be able to defend themselves," he said. "But the Department of Education and the U.S. Postal Service having armed forces? That is a real head-scratcher."
The 2008 Justice Department survey found that between 2004 and 2008, the federal government bolstered its armed force by about 15,000 positions, and simultaneously authorized eight more agencies to create armed divisions.
But at least one agency's purchases have been on a downswing. A Government Accountability Office study that was published in January found that the Department of Homeland Security's ammunition buys have been steadily waning since fiscal 2009.
Specifically, the GAO report found: "In fiscal year 2013, DHS purchased 84 million rounds of ammunition. From fiscal years 2008 through 2013, DHS purchased an average of 109 million rounds of ammunition [each year] for training, qualification, and operational needs."
At the same time, the GAO concluded that the drop in ammo buys by Homeland Security was due primarily to budget constraints, and not political pressures or Second Amendment group outcries.
Still, it's not the Department of Homeland Security or the Justice Department that have caused the most angst in terms of weapons and ammunition purchases — it's the departments that seem at odds with the employment of armed individuals, like education or the postal service.
"In the gun-rights community, there is a sentiment that if some of these agencies are in need of a law-enforcement presence, perhaps they should rely on the FBI or the federal Marshals Service to provide it, rather than create their own police force," Workman said.
Workman is not alone in that view. Bob Owens, writing on his Bearing Arms blog
, said purchases like the submachine guns by USDA are part of the "trend to arm every branch of federal government."
And Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma sent a letter to the department in late May, asking for clarification of the gun purchases and saying: "The fear of my constituents is that the USDA is expanding outside of its intended mission."
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