12:04 a.m. EDT August 23, 2016
The number of non-military federal agency personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms now exceeds the number of personnel in the entire United States Marine Corps. That’s the finding of a new report called "Open the Books: The Militarization of America."
We can expect that law enforcement agencies have a need to carry firearms, but, is it necessary for administrative agencies to have their own military-like arsenals and each having their own "police force" such as the Department Of Veterans Affairs?
The VA has the duty "to care for those who have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan," yet, it spends millions of dollars buying guns and ammunition for their 3,700 law enforcement officers. When I inquired about why it was necessary to buy so many munitions, the reply from Randy Noller, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C. was "ensuring VA police are equipped with all the necessary resources is paramount in protecting, lives, property and people for a department that employs over 350,000. The key to serving the veteran is their safety."
That all sounds reasonable, except it doesn’t explain the need for riot gear, night gun sights, various types of automatic handguns, thousands of rounds of jacketed hollow-point bullets, body armor, thermal binoculars, return fire cannons, tactical and breaching equipment. The VA police have also been given full federal authority to make arrests, carry out investigations of crimes on and off department property, and to carry weapons while off duty.
In fairness to the VA there have been incidents where mentally disturbed patients have attacked and assaulted staff members of the VA. Over the years several VA police have died in the line of duty while trying to subdue these persons. There is an obvious need for security personnel, but, does that justify hollow-point bullets, riot gear, and crowd control equipment? Does the VA expect veterans to lay siege to VA hospitals, or riot at VA medical centers and clinics? But, the VA is not the only non-military agency that has heavily armed personnel.
There are 67 non-defense agencies that spend billions of dollars purchasing military-type weapons including assault rifles, such as the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the EPA, the Department Of Energy, USDA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin., Department Of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Assistant Secretary for Health, Geological Survey, and more, plus the dozens of federal law enforcement agencies. The government seems to be financing a civilian army.
In a speech in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama, stated, " We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded." Is Obama now fulfilling that desire by having federal agencies stockpiling arms and ammunition, while at the same time downsizing the military? The President, and Congress, should explain to the public why billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent turning non-defense government bureaus into armed camps. Some members of Congress, and the President, clamor for stricter gun control, yet, they are willing to authorize the purchase of military style weapons and equipment for administrative agencies turning them into a separate ‘armed forces’, with each having their own Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams.
There are already more than 350 million guns in circulation in the United States. That’s greater than the entire population of the country. The public needs to ask themselves, will adding more guns to the mix solve the gun violence issue, stop the mass killings, make America safer, or become a potential threat to civil liberties?
Carl J. Asszony of Piscataway is a member of the Veterans Advisory Council at the VA Medical Center, Lyons. firstname.lastname@example.org.