Rep. Stewart seeking to demilitarize federal regulatory agencies

By Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Aug. 25, 2014, 6:05 p.m. MDT

 Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said a police show of force against protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that have been compared to an invading army is boosting interest in his effort to demilitarize federal regulatory agencies.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said a police show of force against protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that have been compared to an invading army is boosting interest in his effort to demilitarize federal regulatory agencies.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said police shows of force against protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that have been compared to an invading army is boosting interest in his effort to demilitarize federal regulatory agencies.

But Stewart told the Deseret News and KSL editorial board Monday that he isn't trying to take advantage of the concerns raised by the local police reaction to demonstrations against the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old.

"I don't feel comfortable taking advantage of that and trying to sell it by saying, 'Well, look what's happening out in Ferguson, therefore, come support my bill.' I think those situations are different enough," he said.

Still, the images of a heavily armored vehicle rolling through the small St. Louis suburb while officers outfitted in battle-ready camouflage gear carry automatic weapons is having an impact.

"There's no question it's brought much more attention to the bill because of what has happened in the last few weeks in Missouri," the 2nd District congressman said, helping the public to better understand what he's trying to do.

In June, Stewart introduced what he's calling the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act in response to SWAT-style teams at various federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management.

His bill, which he said likely won't go before Congress until early next year, followed the standoff earlier this year between heavily armed BLM agents and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters.

"There is just no reason, I don't think, that the Department of Education, the IRS, or the FDA, or, you know, pick a regulatory agency, needs what is essentially a SWAT team," Stewart said.

He said he is not calling for BLM agents, for example, not to be allowed to carry weapons.

"They clearly need a sidearm to protect themselves. But that's different than showing up with a SWAT van and machine guns and grenade launchers," Stewart said. "I get that. We don't want to make life harder for them."

If more firepower is needed, Stewart said federal regulatory agencies should be turning to local and federal law enforcement for help rather than assembling arsenals.

His bill would prohibit federal agencies not traditionally involved in law enforcement from purchasing machine guns, grenades and similar weapons, repealing authority granted by the 2002 Homeland Security Act.

It would also require agencies to report on specialized units trained to use military tactics to respond to high-risk situations. Stewart said he has been frustrated in his attempt to get information.

Last spring, Stewart said he was one of only a few Republicans who sought more disclosure about the billions of dollars in surplus military equipment transferred to local police departments around the country.

"It was just because of this overall concern I have with not just the militarization, but with the breakdown of trust that I felt like that fostered," he said, noting his views are shared by libertarians and progressives, as well as his fellow conservatives.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and other Utah law enforcement officials have expressed caution about how the military equipment is used. Winder has said it comes down to using common sense.

"I'm extremely sensitive to the realities that are present today," Winder recently told the Deseret News. "The thing I do not want to do is offend our community."

Stewart said he's focused on the "broader picture" portrayed by the use of such tactics.

"One of the fundamental challenges we have right now is the American people don't trust the federal government," he said. "And frankly, the federal government acts like they don't trust the American people."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

1. Informed Voter
South Jordan, UT,
Aug. 25, 2014

Keep up the effort. We need to de-militarize government agencies!

2. Herbert Gravy
Salinas, CA,
Aug. 25, 2014

How about the Department of Homeland Security. Does it really need all of that ammunition it is hoarding?

3. ECR
Burke, VA,
Aug. 26, 2014

I think the response from "informed Voter" illustrates how Congressman Stewart's pending bill is perceived by many.

First, let me say that I agree with the statement that only a handful of government "law enforcement" agencies should have armed staff to deal with dangerous situations. But isn't it the case that most of the armed response to protesters in Ferguson. MO were from the local police department and only recetnly has the National Guard been deployed to help with that situation? It reminds of my home town in rural Idaho. The entire county has about 4000 residents and what was a Sherriff's office with 3-5 badged deputies in the 70's is now more than 20 heavily armed deputies covering essentially the same number of residents.

Most federal agencies are not involved in armed assault but are being assaulted themselves by Congressional committees that have nothing better to do, apparently, than hold hearings making outlandiish accusations and witholding funding, promised long ago, which drives up the cost of projects for everyone. Then they hold hearings to find out why costs are going up. Well duh! Maybe Congressman Stewart can investigate that issue and do us all a favor.

4. Itsjstmeagain
Merritt Island, Fl,
Aug. 26, 2014

Is it the weapons or the leadership that created this problem? How could such a demographic leave no "minorities" in office or the police force. If the police had no hardened vehicles, what would have happened at the Bundy ranch had the Bundy supporters decided to open fire especially their snipers.

Mr. Brown was a tragedy. Trying to synthesize all of the media reports, it is obvious Mr. Brown showed no respect for the cop or the law. Society in general has lost respect for police. As an open target with untold numbers of guns in the wrong hands I can see their wanting to go home that night.

5. JWB
Kaysville, UT,
Aug. 26, 2014

Possee comitatus was made for a reason many years ago. I think of countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and others like Syria that uses muscle power inappropriately. Some administrative type Federal agencies have some of their personnel to FBI training and that is overdoing it. A federal police state is not what we want. Having military equipment everywhere is not what the small or large states wanted in the constitution. The states have their sheriffs, cities and states have police forces. The federal military is for military purposes. We have military sales to foreign countries controlled by Congress but I am not sure Congress is controlling military sales to States.