Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, an outspoken opponent of gun control for private citizens, wants to disarm thousands of federal officers who patrol national forests and wildlife refuges.
Craig, a board member of the National Rifle Association, says people are increasingly frightened by the presence of “an armed federal entity” in the West.
“There has always been a healthy suspicion of the federal agent. Now there is developing a healthy fear, especially if the agent is armed,” Craig told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Craig said guns are not needed at the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Fish and Wildlife Service. He said he would maintain some armed law officers at the National Park Service because that agency “is a manager of people as much as a protector of property.”
He said Thursday there is no inconsistency in his defense of the right to bear arms at a time he is calling for disarming federal agents.
“The Second Amendment applies to private citizens. We have always controlled and determined who packs a gun as a law enforcement officer,” he said.
Craig made initial comments about disarming law officers in federal forests and wildlife refuges during an interview with the AP Wednesday about citizen militias and property-rights groups in the West.
“What I’m trying to express is a growing frustration in the West amongst the private citizens of the increasing presence of an armed federal entity in the states where you have these resource agencies,” Craig said. “Local residents prefer dealing with local officials because they know them and are at ease with them.”
Former BLM Director Jim Baca joined environmentalists Tuesday in urging the Justice Department to step up an investigation into possible links between militias and militant defenders of private property.
Craig said there is no such link. He said conflicts between land owners and federal officers in the West are due in part to what he views as the aggressive nature of federal agents and their unwillingness to work with local authorities.
The senator was most upset about Fish and Wildlife Service agents who recently tried to serve a federal warrant on an Idaho man in the investigation of a shooting of a wolf protected by the Endangered Species Act.
“What happens in the West when all of the sudden they see these folks in the Forest Service and BLM being armed and carrying arms, they grow frightened. They go to a public hearing, and standing around the room are armed Forest Service and BLM people,” Craig said Wednesday.
He cited fear growing out of such incidents as the deaths at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and the killing of a militant’s wife and son at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
The senator said the agencies originally asked for money to arm law officers to fight drug trafficking. “They didn’t need them before and they don’t need them now,” he said.
Spokesman Bryan Wilkes said Craig has no plans to introduce legislation regarding the guns but is reviewing the overall law enforcement organization at the Forest Service.
About 6,700 law officers carry guns for Interior Department agencies, department spokesman Jamie Workman said Thursday. They include the National Park Service, 3,200; Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2,260; Fish and Wildlife Service, 1,000; BLM, 251; and Bureau of Reclamation, 14.
Forest Service spokesman Alan Polk said the agency would not respond to Craig’s comments. He said approximately 680 Forest Service law enforcement law officers carry guns.
Baca, a former New Mexico lands commissioner who resigned the top BLM job last year in an environmental dispute with the Clinton administration, said some BLM law officers need guns.
“Not so much because of the ‘wise use’ guys, just because of other law enforcement problems on public lands,” he said.