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USDA gun buy is symptom of large government, not impending tyranny

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In recent years, a number of alarmist reports have detailed how various agencies of the federal government have planned to purchase large quantities of ammunition and weapons. The most recent such report, a solicitation for bids to provide .40 caliber submachine guns to the Department of Agriculture, was detailed in May. Many conspiracy theorists believe that the purchase orders are harbingers of the government’s intention to impose martial law and declare war on its own citizens.

The solicitation, posted on the FedBizOpps website on May 7, specifies that the weapons be equipped with “semi-automatic or 2 shot burts [sic] trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsilbe [sic] or folding, magazine - 30 rd. capacity, sling, light weight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation.” The posting is real and the website is a legitimate federal government website.

The previous reports of purchases of large quantities of ammunition by federal agencies as varied as the Postal Service, the Department of Education and Homeland Security, while real, have been thoroughly debunked as an indication of imminent tyranny by sites such as the conservative Breitbart.com as well the longtime debunker, Snopes. These sites point out that the conspiracy theorists underestimate the amount of ammunition required for currency and training. They also fail to account for the fact that the government contracts are multi-year purchases that specify an upper range of quantity. Ammunition, like other commodities, is purchased in bulk in order to obtain volume discounts.

An additional theory is that the government was attempting to corner the market on ammunition in order to facilitate de facto gun control. With ammunition in short supply, guns would be almost useless. Forbes found a different explanation. Record high purchases of firearms logically lead to record high purchases of ammunition. There is a shortage of ammunition because there are many new gun owners. Dean Weingarten, writing on TheTruthAboutGuns.com recently suggested that pent up demand for ammunition is being satisfied and that prices are already dropping.

Ammunition shortages are easily debunked, but why does the Department of Agriculture need submachine guns? To find out, Examiner spoke with Alison Decker, Assistant Counsel to the USDA Inspector General.

In a prepared statement, Ms. Decker said that the submachine guns were intended to replace older, semi-automatic weapons used by agents of the USDA Office of the Inspector General. The weapons are intended to be used by USDA OIG agents in conducting “hundreds of criminal investigations each year” into “criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees.”

The USDA was authorized to investigate and prosecute criminal activity that affected USDA programs and activities by the Inspector General Act of 1978. According to Ms. Decker, the OIG’s law enforcement activities led to more than “2,000 indictments, 1,350 convictions, and over $460 million in monetary results” from fiscal year 2012 through March 2014.

There is no evidence that the firearms purchased by the USDA are part of a sinister plot to impose martial law or tyranny on the American people. In fact, the very idea seems to defy logic. If the federal government intended to impose martial law, there are already hundreds of thousands of combat-experienced, well-armed soldiers in the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and National Guard. There are also thousands of armed federal agents already positioned throughout the country. It seems ludicrous to suggest that such a plot would hinge on equipping the agents of the USDA Office of the Inspector General with .40 caliber automatics.

While not a sign of imminent danger or martial law, the USDA gun procurement may be symptomatic of a too large federal government in which a myriad of federal agencies duplicate efforts. In 2011, the Wall St. Journal detailed how the sharp increase in the number of criminal laws and regulations had led to a surge in the number of federal law enforcement agents. By the Journal’s estimate, there are more than 138,000 armed federal agents from more than 70 agencies. Fox puts the number at high as 73.

The expansion of rulemaking and policing has led to more criminal prosecutions for trivial matters. Enforcement of rules that was once a civil matter can now bring a raid by a squad of federal agents armed with assault rifles. This was the case for Morgan Mok in 2008 when agents of NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service raided her Miami business looking for illegal coral. According to the WSJ, Mok had obtained the coral legally, but paid a $500 fine for failing to complete the paperwork properly. A similar instance from 2011 involved a raid on Gibson Guitar by armed Fish and Wildlife agents searching for illegal wood. No criminal charges were filed, but the company agreed to pay $350,000 in penalties reported CNS News. In 2012, Fox News reported that armed EPA agents in body armor descended on an Alaska town looking for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The USDA OIG website details a number of recent investigations. The majority of these investigations seem to be the equivalent of “white collar” crimes such as crop insurance fraud, SNAP (food stamp) fraud, misbranding meat or the sale of property that was collateral for USDA loans. Some investigations, such as the attempted theft of a truckload of meat, could have legitimately required armed officers.

A question to consider is whether the number of crimes that require armed intervention is enough to justify the USDA’s own armed agents. In many instances, the USDA could be backed up by local law enforcement or other armed federal agents such as the FBI or US Marshals. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to USDA for more information on OIG investigations and use of force, but a reply has not yet been received.

The core problem is that the federal government is too large, not that it is about to implement martial law. The answer is reform, not revolution. Law enforcement officers and military personnel are not the enemy.

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