Thousands of federal government employees are armed with handguns and even semiautomatic and automatic weapons as part of their jobs for agencies that are not traditional law enforcement operations.
These gun-toting civil servants include those performing missions that involve Social Security, delivering the mail, predicting the weather, and overseeing railroad pensions. Others authorized to carry firearms conduct audits for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Social Security Administration has sought to purchase 174,000 rounds of hollow-point bullets, while at least nine agencies have their own SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, including the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Labor, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
With the increase of federal regulatory criminal laws being passed, the number of law-enforcement personnel attached to agencies has gone up as well. But the traditional law enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Marshals Service have been unable to handle all of the demand to execute potentially dangerous investigations, searches and arrests, leading officials at these other departments to develop their own police forces, according to an analysis by Candice Bernd of Truthout.
These forces can take their jobs too seriously. In 2003, Department of Fish and Wildlife agents stormed into the home of George and Kathy Norris of Houston. George Norris imported and sold orchids. He was subsequently accused of smuggling a certain variety of the plant into the United States. Although it was later found that he had only made a few paperwork errors, he ended up pleading guilty to seven counts of violating the Endangered Species Act and served 17 months in prison.
Some lawmakers are starting to think it might be time to scale back on federal criminal codes. Last year, the Over-Criminalization Task Force (part of the House Judiciary Committee) convened for the first time to consider ways to shrink the number of laws and provisions on the books.