Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Rangers Resist Efforts to Take Away Their Sidearms

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Rangers Resist Efforts to Take Away Their Sidearms

Article excerpt

THEY'RE ARMED and their critics say they're intimidating to ordinary citizens. But the 7,500 rangers who patrol the more than one million square miles of federal land have fired their weapons just 19 times since 1991, government records show.

In most cases, the rangers fired in self-defense after confronting criminal suspects, according to the Interior and Agriculture departments, which administer most of Uncle Sam's real estate.

But some people say they should be disarmed.

"The fact is, when an agent of the National Park Service, or the Forest Service or Fish and Wildlife Service or the Bureau of Land Management is wearing a sidearm, it makes a statement to people that they expect confrontation," said Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho. "That is not a way for reasonable people to reason together."

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have also called for disarming federal rangers.

Chenoweth has drafted a bill that would require federal agents to coordinate their activities with local law enforcement. She said she believes Forest Service rangers should never carry guns, and that when they discover marijuana plantations or drug manufacturing labs on federal property, "They are obligated to contact the proper law enforcement authorities - just like any other citizen."

Forest Service rangers were authorized to carry guns - and make arrests - in a 1986 anti-drug law. Before that time, a much more limited number carried weapons.

The rangers' response to disarmament proposals is to cite the growing incident of crime on federal lands.

"I would ask the question: Would you care to patrol an area almost the size of Rhode Island, by yourself, in often hostile situations or where you were faced with some life-threatening circumstances, without a gun?" said Walter Johnson, a Bureau of Land Management supervisor.

"My guys use extraordinary judgment and discretion. We have had no complaints of firearms abuse in the last 11 years. …

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