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Bill Would Strip Fed Wildlife Agents of Firearms

The FOCUS Act would disarm fish and game agents who are often at greater risk of armed engagement.

February 17, 2012  |  by Jon Adler

As written, the Freedom from Over‐Criminalization and Unjust Seizures (FOCUS) Act of 2012 would remove authority from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA agents and officers to carry firearms.

Currently, this authority exists only in the Lacey Act. It was validated by a 1920 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Missouri v. Holland). Sen. Rand Paul (R‐Ky.) initially introduced the FOCUS Act (S. 2062) that we at the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) oppose.

This legislation is a dangerous over‐reach and over‐reaction to the Gibson Guitar case in Nashville, Tenn. This proposed bill will amend the Lacey Act, which was passed in 1900 and last amended in 1981. This proposed legislation is totally unfocused.

The assertion that wildlife agents should not serve and execute warrants with firearms is faulty. Most reasonable people know that "game wardens" and wildlife agents routinely encounter armed subjects whether they are involved in legal or illegal taking of fish, game, and wildlife. The high court recognized that many species of game and fish are highly migratory, and those who harvest them are not necessarily local residents.

Historically, violations of these laws could not be effectively investigated or prosecuted once the wildlife left the jurisdiction where it was illegally taken. This law gives the government the ability to assist state, tribal, local and other nations in investigating wildlife crimes that they otherwise could not due to lack of resources, funding, or jurisdiction considerations.

Every state legislature has armed and granted full-time state law enforcement status to its wildlife enforcement officers.

In a study conducted by the FBI of assaults on conservation law enforcement officers, it was revealed that agents and officers enforcing environmental and natural resource laws were nine times more likely to be assaulted with a dangerous weapon when compared to traditional law enforcement officers. The public realizes when they are stopped by a state trooper that most traffic violations are usually an infraction, however troopers are still armed.

The FOCUS Act, which has yet to become law, would also remove international predicate violations. This effectively hampers the enforcement of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts and the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), because many times violations of this law and this treaty are enforced under the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act also contains provisions that safeguard public health and restrict the importation of invasive plants and injurious species of wildlife. There have been numerous cases where large-scale operations exposed the public to contaminated shellfish and falsely labeled seafood that were intercepted before threatening public consumers.

Recently, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a rule that would ban the importation and interstate transportation of four non‐native constrictor snakes that threaten the native species of wildlife in the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems across the U.S.

Both of these activities also impact jobs and the economy by providing an unfair competitive edge to unscrupulous seafood dealers and threatening the livelihoods of the tourism industry in Florida and other southeastern states.

Finally, the FOCUS Act would remove the "big stick" of a potential $250,000 penalty for individuals and $500,000 for corporations prosecuted for felony offenses. These fines are almost never levied, and more reasonable fines are requested by U.S. attorneys. However, in cases where the subjects made large sums of money through unlawful commercialization of the "people's wildlife," which is a theft from each and every citizen, then the ability to levy large criminal fines serves as a deterrent against just accepting civil fines as the "cost of doing business."

Tags: FLEOA, Fish and Game Enforcement, U.S. Congress, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Comments (28)

Displaying 1 - 28 of 28

Scott @ 2/21/2012 8:00 PM

Everyone knows the Fish and Game Wardens know are the prob. the most underpaid officers out there. I pray for their sakes this falls thru somehow.

Bob T.retired @ 2/21/2012 8:39 PM

I hope to God this falls through. Placing a dangerous job in a more dangerous position without a firearm for Off''s is outrageous. NYS did this in 1980. They created under the States Criminal Procedure Law two classes of Officers. Police Officers and Peace Officers. Peace Officers could only carry firearms if their agency felt they needed them. Some lost their rights to carry on and off duty. I was one of them. I was making car stops, issuing tickets, making arrests, all without a gun. Needless to say I left as soon as a Police agency called me. I hope this legislation fails. You cant properly protect other when you yourself are in fear and defenseless. I speak from experience.

L.A @ 2/21/2012 10:00 PM

This saddens me. I couldn't think of them not being able to carry a weapon. May Law makers need to walk in the shoes of these great warriors

roberto calderon @ 2/21/2012 10:18 PM

I am extremely surprised of how our elected representatives can be so stupid to attempt to disarm U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA agents; Law Enforcement Officers performing a valuable service. This action is outrageous! Our nation needs these outstanding individuals to continue enforcing environmental and natural resource laws. Duties that safeguard Public Safety. The Representatives who are sponsoring the FOCUS Act sholud be criminally charged with "negligence".

gp cobb @ 2/21/2012 11:02 PM

... and the rest of us just got permission to carry in parks.....
............ simply amazing the ignorance of disarming officers.............

Gary Pearse @ 2/21/2012 11:13 PM

It is well proven that the two highest items illegally smuggled is drugs first and native wildlife second and in most cases the same people are involved. Having worked in conjunction with fisheries & wildlife officers, it has been dangerous and perilous at times in remote areas where you suppoted each other. When they disarmed the Fisheries & Wildlife officers in this State, there were more joint patrols done where basiccally the Police Officer became the Fisheries & Wildlife officers bodyguard and this reduces the effectiveness of the team. Do not go down the same track please.

Alan Chu @ 2/21/2012 11:24 PM

Let me get this straight. We expect an unarmed F & G officer to serve up a warrant to some lowlife that's probably shot up a few animals and doesn't think twice about using a firearm? Can we say, "unclear on the concept"? Who comes up with this crap?

Ric Walters @ 2/22/2012 4:55 AM

It is an overreaction to the Gibson Guitar case - but sometimes it takes something as stupid as that event to get attention. I suggest that all of you write Senator Paul (who is a great supporter of law enforcement when it's done right) and provide him with real-life solutions to the problems his bill would solve, as well as solutions to the problems its passage would cause. Fish and Wildlife and NOAA law enforcement personnel should be armed. Abuses of the system like the Gibson case need to end. Only the Congress can do both.

LONEWOLF @ 2/22/2012 4:58 AM

THIS MUST STOP!!!!! ANYONE WHO HAS ANY TYPE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY MUST BE ARMED!!!! WHEN WILL YOU PEOPLE WAKE UP????

DO YOU WANT TO BURY MORE LEOS IN 2012 THAN IN 2011????

ex Ranger @ 2/22/2012 6:27 AM

Don't they realize that like park rangers F&W rangers are out patrolling and responding to incidents alone and back up is usually 30 minutes or more. Disarming them would be an injustice to them and their family. Send the backers of this bill out to the refuges to work unarmed and alone for a few months and let them see what it is really like.

Frank @ 2/22/2012 7:16 AM

What! Your kidding an unarmed LEO in this era. The people supporting this bill must be in a time machine. Its not 1940 its 2012!

This country is dangerous. Watch the news!

Amazed @ 2/22/2012 7:28 AM

Where do the idiots that think up this stuff come from???? Absolutely absurd and dangerous!!!! If by some unbelievable act of stupidity this passes, EVERY park and game officer should resign the next day.

C. Fine @ 2/22/2012 8:09 AM

When you use law enforcement to push political agendas, it will bite you in the butt. Just look at Fast and Furious or Waco. I don't care what party you are from. It just puts good officers in the middle politician's wizzing contests. Cops are cops and anyone that enforces law needs to be armed. Politicians need to be held responsible for these messes, not the officers. I always feel bad for the guys in the trenches in these mindless political messes.

Rick @ 2/22/2012 8:26 AM

I worked with NMFS agents while in the Coast Guard. They set up a huge fisheries bust against Taiwanese fishermen northwest of Iwo Jima (Operation Red Fin). They arrested the captains of the two vesseles as the CGC Morgenthau came out of a fog bank with battle stations set and .50 machine guns ready for action in case the ships tried to ram us. The ships scattered; we followed one and caught it with the Taiwanese Navy off of Taiwan. I think the NMFS boat chased and had to let the other go when they ran short of fuel, but I can't remember. Those agents NEED to be armed!

Dexter Soileau @ 2/22/2012 8:38 AM

Glad I have enough time to retire. I would never do this job unarmed. People are killing people over a pair of shoes today. If this bill would pass I would retire in a second.

La. Deputy @ 2/22/2012 8:46 AM

What absolute IDIOCY!! As Lone Wolf has said anyone who has ANY type of LE authority MUST be armed!

Levi Lloyd @ 2/22/2012 3:58 PM

This is a joke. I am a wild land wild life law enforcement major taking fire arms away from these individuals would be one of the worst things the goverment could do. Removing firearms from these officers would be leaving them out to dry if they came into a situation where they need to defend them selves.

Bob@Az. @ 2/23/2012 7:43 PM

Sen.Paul, do the people your allegedly representing and resign before you kill any more LEOs. What great lapse of sanity caused you to introduce this bill? How about we disarm the folks who protect you? They can't have that danderous of a job, can they? Or maybe YOU should work the "woods" for six months or so and then rethink this bill.

George Ball @ 2/24/2012 5:24 AM

As a retired Maryland Natural Resources Police Officer and current Chief of a small municipal Police Department, this is one of the most ridiculous ideas I have seen in a while; and our politicians do a lot of stupid things. I spent 28 plus years working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agents, and if this bill passes, the politicians responsible should be held personally liable for the injuries and deaths that will happen to these Federal Agents.

MrMirth @ 2/24/2012 8:59 AM

The Gibson Guitar case was absurdly mishandled and this is just about perceptions and politics.

That said, federal land management and conservation officers are not seen as cops. Not by the public, not by their agencies, not by other cops. NOAA, the Interior and Agriculture Departments and the other federal agencies with law enforcement responsibilities need to designate their officers as POLICE.

I work as a Law Enforcement Ranger but, my designation is Park Ranger. That's the same title as the Park Rangers that give tours and point out which is the tree and what is a rock. Try explaining that to every drunken wife beater in a campground.

Interior needs to consolidate all their LE officers into a Department of Interior POLICE. All DOI POLICE would have jurisdiction and responsibility for all DOI law enforcement, department wide. The other federal agencies should do likewise.

And, unless there is an imminent threat to life or some other exigent circumstance, we need to exercise discretion in our enforcement. We don't have to back down or become pussies but, we don't work in a vacuum.

Anonymous @ 2/25/2012 4:58 AM

Would the author of this story please tell us what we can do to help make sure that this legislation does not pass? Who should we contact to try and stop this? There are people out here willing to sign petitions, write congressmen/women, etc... Just please give us some direction, and we're behind you and here to help!

Jim Eisenhauer @ 2/25/2012 6:13 AM

I was a Md. Natural Resoueces Police Officer for 13 years. I can testift that it was every bit as dangerous as being a police in a big city. Nearly 2/3 rds of everyone we dealt with, including watermen, were armed and back up was always far away. That is why the job is so dangerous. Our state legislature is currently attacking our natural resources police as well with ridicolous legislation. Time to get the FOP involved in the federal case.

Frank Stephenson @ 2/26/2012 11:44 AM

This bill was introduced by Rank Paul, and co-sponsored by two other Republican Senators. That says it all right there.

Jasmine @ 2/27/2012 8:51 AM

This is absolutely ludicrous!!! This all goes back to the guys that are elected into office and THINK that they know what goes on beyond the walls of their office. Walk a day in these officers boots and anyone with an IQ will see what a rediculous idea this is!

Richard Catellier @ 3/3/2012 5:39 AM

While working as a FWS officer on my refuge in recent years, I was responsible for sending 3 people to jail. One for carrying a loaded handgun without a license (was pending trial for A&B on a PO), one for possession of stolen property (had just been released from jail 2 weeks prior to my encounter), and for attempted rape (had already served 20 years for 5 other rapes). All were convicted and the rapist received what amouts to a life sentence. Would anyone want to encounter those guys without a weapon?

Frank Bailey @ 3/14/2012 9:04 PM

I'm retired now after 35 years as a state game warden. I remember one year back in 1997, I and another wildlife officer worked about every Sunday night in the winter of that year in his county. If memory serves me correct, I think we only worked about 3 Sundays and didn't make a night time deer poaching case; every one of course was armed. Except for about two groups, every vehicle we searched subject to arrest, we found everything from meth, cocain, pot, and more pills that the corner drugstore had in stock. We also sent a couple of convicted felons back to prison as their paroles were violated by being in possession of firearms. It took us almost until May to clear those cases up in General Sessions and Circuit Court. Maybe the idots that came up with this crap would like to put the green uniform on and deal with what we dealt with that winter without being armed and see how long you would last if the dirt bags knew that you were helpless. And that was only one winter of my career..........

Jason @ 3/22/2012 3:23 PM

I am now a state Environmental Conservation Officer and I was a NYC Cop who worked the "toughest" neghborhoods in that city. I get more anxious checking a hunting camp than I ever did stopping someone who just avoided paying the subway fare.

I like Rand Paul and LOVE his dad whom I have supported vigorously since 2007 but from what I have read he is way off the mark here. Totally clueless. This is the type of knee-jerk reaction I did not expect; especially from him. I am dissapointed. I am writing his office next.

090 @ 5/4/2012 7:31 AM

why would we as a society who allows citizens the right right to bear arms (a great freedom to have) not allow a law enforcement officer of any department not have the right to protect himself and the innocent against deadly threats. Are we going to go back to if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. Brilliant

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