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Columns : Editorial

FOCUS Act: A Law of Unintended Consequences

In an attempt to stop what they call “overreach” by the government, conservative senators may defang some of the nation’s most imperiled sheepdogs.

March 05, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Source: Wikimedia
Source: Wikimedia

A decade ago when I came to this job, I carried into it all the prejudices about law enforcement of the average American. It was stuff that I learned from TV and from movies and I had to de-educate myself.

Sometimes the de-education process came at the advice of friendly veteran officers. Sometimes it was the result of something I learned while pursuing a feature article. Regardless, I learned very quickly that if someone is given the responsibility of a badge and a gun by our government then they deserve respect, no matter how unusual their assignment.

And I've met some officers with some pretty unusual assignments: railroad police, Nevada gaming police, alcohol control officers, park police, and game and fish officers, just to name a few.

Now I have to admit that the first time I interviewed a game and fish officer, I really didn't show him the proper respect. I was researching a story on backup gun policies, and I thought I needed to talk to urban officers, but somebody suggested I speak with this guy out in Montana. So I reluctantly gave the federal wildlife officer a call.

Few interviews have helped me understand the perils of a specific law enforcement assignment more than this conversation. In the course of about 20 minutes, this officer explained that unlike the average urban officer, almost every person he contacts in the course of his work day—whether they are fishing or hunting—is carrying a firearm. While most of the people this officer meets are just sports enthusiasts who obey the law, some have bad intent. And his nearest backup is more than 50 miles away.

That's why the recent news that Congress is considering a bill that could strip federal fish and game officers of their firearms struck a nerve with me. It's another example of civilians not realizing the dangers faced by these dedicated officers.

The bill in question is called the FOCUS (Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures) Act of 2012. It was introduced last month by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and quickly co-sponsored by Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and James Risch (R-Idaho).

Ironically, the FOCUS Act, which is about limiting government overreach may be overreaching. The stated purpose of the FOCUS Act is to dial back the enforcement powers granted to the federal government under the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act is a 1900 conservation law that prohibits trade in "illegal wildlife, fish, and plants." Many people support the basic foundation of the Lacey Act, but Congress can't leave well enough alone. There were amendments in 1935, 1969, 1981, 1988, and 2008. The 2008 amendment extended the term "illegal" to include plants and animals that are harvested outside of the laws of other countries. The result is a law that allows the government to shut down Gibson Guitar Corp. for using wood that was "illegally logged" in Madagascar and India.

Because the Gibson Guitar case is so controversial, the FOCUS Act has a lot of support among conservatives. But few of those supporters are aware of what I believe are unintended consequences of modifying or repealing the Lacey Act.

According to Jon Adler, executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), the FOCUS Act would remove the legal authority for federal wildlife officers to carry guns.

And let's be clear here. We are not talking about game wardens that spend all of their time preventing Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo from stealing picnic baskets. We are talking about crime fighters, sheepdogs who could be defanged, even though their jobs are some of the most dangerous in federal law enforcement.

An FBI study of assaults on conservation law enforcement officers found that officers enforcing natural resource and environmental laws were nine times more likely to be attacked with a dangerous weapon than other officers. Remember what that federal wildlife officer told me years ago: "Almost everyone I contact is carrying a firearm and my nearest backup is 50 miles away."

I don't believe that stripping brave law enforcement officers of their guns is the purpose of the FOCUS Act. And I believe the proposed law can be adjusted by the Senate to make sure that it doesn't harm federal wildlife officers.

I urge you to write, call, or e-mail the offices of Sen. Paul and the other sponsors of the FOCUS Act and express your concern for your fellow officers. They need their guns.


Bill Would Strip Fed Wildlife Agents of Firearms

Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Doc @ 3/6/2012 6:09 PM

what a crock!!!! These are the same politicians that pass the laws that this group of federal LEOs are charged to enforce. Unbalievable to say the least.

Michael @ 3/6/2012 7:03 PM

I can't believe what is going on in our Government. Who's side are these AH's on. This should have not even got to this point, we as cops are out gunned, out numbered, out funded and lack the support of our local, state and federal Government officials........why do we do what we do............we must all be fools for doing our jobs. Thank God we do because where would we be if we didn't. These politicians are all crooked and full of it............this is just a bunch of crap. If they get away with this, which of us is next......................

PAPPY @ 3/6/2012 8:01 PM

This should be the last straw, how can these guys in Congress do this. They need to walk a mile in the Police shoes for a while!

Morning Eagle @ 3/6/2012 11:06 PM

Yes they should but it is doubtful they would have the nerve to walk two steps in a policeman's shoes, let alone a mile. Given the BS flowing out of D.C. it is quite obvious that very few of those running the show right now have a clue, or even care to learn, about the "real world" outside the beltway. They have insulated themselves so effectively from the people they were elected to represent that it has become a travesty that is doing great damage to our whole country.

And by the way Mr. Griffith, game wardens do a lot more than play games with Yogi and BooBoo .... You must know that so I presume the comment was made in jest.

Ron O. @ 3/6/2012 11:21 PM

HERE is the email I sent to Rand Paul:

Dear Senator - as a dyed in the wool conservative, tea party member and retired law enforcement officer, I BEG you to re-write and amend the FOCUS act to preserve the law enforcement authority of the federal officers with the FWS. While I agree wholeheartedly that the Gibson guitar incident was a travesty of justice, stripping these fine men and women of their right to self defense in the performance of their vital tasks is OVERREACH in response to the OVERREACH. PLEASE AMEND THIS bill to reach a compromise, RESTRICT the enforcement of the Lacey act, while preserving their federal LEO status as armed officers. THANK YOU !

FireCop @ 3/7/2012 5:02 AM

I am on the state legislative committee and will pass this along to all public safety personnel in our state, to contact thier federal elected officials and demand that this be changed. Totally ridiculous.

Stan Martin @ 3/7/2012 10:15 AM

Murder is legal in Virgina if your are a Game Warden asking to see a fishing license. On Game Warden killed a mouthy teenager for not producing a fishing license. It was a "justified" shoot (aka State cover-up).

Justified @ 3/12/2012 9:07 AM

Stan Martin are you referring to the the Virgina Game warden that shot a teenager for abducting a girl?! I have never seen anything about a fishing license, just abduction and trying to run over a warden and other officers, As an officer I would have hoped I acted the same way, by stopping the threat!

Greg @ 3/13/2012 4:18 AM

The DOJ and the courts have gone nuts...everything is now a federal crime and the Feds want their noses in everything. Nothing is a local crime anymore, civil rights/interstate-commerce etc. govern the world and DOJ wants a part of's why FOCUS has supporters.

I want Federal Fish and Game to be stripped of their guns. I want the State Fish and Game to keep theirs. Notice, this is only the Feds being hit by this, not the state or county officers.

frank @ 3/13/2012 12:10 PM


Are you an officer, of any kind?

Jim @ 3/15/2012 10:48 AM

Outstanding job Congress. A few years ago you passed a bill that allows visitors to carry firearms on National Wildlife Refuges, now you want to pass a bill that takes the firearms away from the officers who patrol these very same refuges. What are you thinking ?

Ben @ 3/15/2012 3:59 PM

This is absolutely absurd. I've read over the proposed changes to the LACEY Act, and this amendment will not do anything to remove the firearms from Federal Wildlife Officers. This article doesn't give any support to its assertion that this Act will do what it claims. This is misinformation at its worst.

Craig Cavanna @ 4/19/2012 11:05 AM

I have been a Federal Law Enforcement Officer for 10 yrs and have a masters degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on Forensic Behavior Anaylsis. There has been an evolution of crimes on federal public lands. These crime are becoming more violent and serious. As local law enforcement has improved techniques and urban interfaces increase on the boundaries of these lands, criminals are increasingly using our federal public lands for increasingly more serious criminal activities.

These aren't just fishing without a license or hunting violations, but rapes, murders, meth labs and much more. Coupled with the lack of available back up (I have worked in places where the closes back-up was 4 hrs away via helicopter), and if the FOCUS Act passes, I can safely say that the government will be paying out much more in death benefits to widows of fallen officers.

RBC @ 5/4/2012 7:27 AM

I fully support this law to limit the law enforcement capabilities of federal LEO's and intend to write my congressman today. This country has become worse than communist China in terms of freedom. I lived in china for 3 months last NEVER see a police officer with a firearm. And you NEVER see police murders with the corresponding throw down weapons and manipulation of the media and jury pool.

DENNIS YOUNG @ 5/17/2012 11:20 PM


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