As Washington politicians aim to restrict the Second Amendment, they should look in the mirror. The time to control government’s guns is now. Overarmed federal officials increasingly employ military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. From food-safety cases to mundane financial matters, battle-ready public employees are turning America into the United States of SWAT.
FBI agents and U.S. marshals understandably are well fortified, given their frequent run-ins with ruthless bad guys. However — as my old friend and fellow columnist Quin Hillyer notes — armed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Small Business Administration and Railroad Retirement Board staffers pack heat!
These “ninja bureaucrats,” as Hillyer calls them, run rampant. They, and often their local-government counterparts, deploy weapons against harmless, frequently innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.
• An FDA SWAT unit struck Lancaster, Pa.’s Rainbow Acres Farm in April 2010. From there, farmer Dan Allgyer illegally had shipped unpasteurized milk to his customers across state lines through something called a “cow-sharing agreement.” (Really.) Ignoring a woman’s right to choose raw milk, Washington launched an armed federal response against this Amish-run dairy. The company subsequently folded.
“He was not tricking people into buying it, he was not forcing people to purchase it, and there had been no complaints about his product,” stated then-Representative Ron Paul (R., Tex.). “These were completely voluntary transactions, but ones that our nanny-state federal government did not approve of, and so they shut down his business.”
U.S. marshals and other federal officers also have conducted similar actions against purveyors of unauthorized milk, cheese, and even elderberry juice.
• When financial questions arose regarding the Mountain Pure Water Company, Washington did not send a few staffers to inspect documents. Instead, last spring, some 50 armed Treasury agents breached Mountain Pure’s headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. They seized 82 boxes of records, herded employees into the cafeteria, snatched their cell phones, and refused to let them consult attorneys.
“We’re the federal government,” Mountain Pure’s comptroller, Jerry Miller, says one pistol-packing fed told him. “We can do what we want, when we want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
• A U.S. Department of Education SWAT force burst into Kenneth Wright’s Stockton, Calif., home in June 2011. “I look out of my window, and I see 15 police officers,” Wright told KXTV. Wright said one officer forced him by the neck onto the front lawn. “He had his knee on my back, and I had no idea why they were there.” While officers searched his house, Wright said, “They put me in handcuffs in a hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” then ages 3, 7, and 11.
The feds sought Wright’s estranged wife, apparently for suspected financial-aid fraud. However, she had moved away a year earlier. Regardless, such a mobilization seems unnecessary to probe someone for possibly swindling scholarship money.
• In August 2011, armed federal Fish and Wildlife agents stormed into the Memphis and Nashville factories of Gibson Guitar, which helps Jackson Browne, B. B. King, and other legends sound amazing. What clear and present danger did Gibson pose? Rather than import finished guitar components, it purchased raw ebony and rosewood from India so that American workers — not Indians — could manufacture fingerboards and other electric-guitar parts. Proving that there no longer is a need to write fiction, Uncle Sam’s case against Gibson is called United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.
• “SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even [used] to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations,” including armed incursions against several black barber shops in Orlando, Fla., according to the Huffington Post’s Radley Balko, who studiously chronicles this topic. He recalls a federal SWAT outfit that invaded an Atlanta DJ’s studio on suspicion of copyright infringement. When several Tibetan monks on a peace mission overstayed their visas, a federal SWAT unit . . .