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Justin Giles of Wasilla, Alaska stands guard on a bridge over the Virgin River during a rally in support of Cliven Bundy near Bunkerville, Nev. Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)
Editorial: Anti-SWAT bill would legislate first, ask questions later

Stewart targets fed SWAT teams.

First Published Jun 24 2014 04:24 pm • Last Updated Jun 24 2014 04:50 pm

A Utah congressman has proposed legislation to protect the American people from something that may not exist. But, because Rep. Chris Stewart’s bill includes a command that an independent body ferret out the truth about the alleged pandemic of federal SWAT teams, it is probably worth passing into law.

Stewart’s "Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act," introduced Monday, carries some baggage of its own.

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For one thing, the bill seems a response to the recent standoff between the federal Bureau of Land Management and Nevada scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy. By reacting to that sorry affair with a bill that would take heavy weaponry (which they may not have had in the first place) away from those who are enforcing federal law, while expressing no concern about the assault weapons brandished by those who were proud to help Bundy violate a valid court order, Stewart treads frighteningly close to encouraging further rebellion on the part of those who have no respect for the law to begin with.

For another, the assertion made by Bundy and other rebels that underlies Stewart’s bill is in serious dispute. That allegation is that agencies as diverse and as unlikely as the BLM, Department of Agriculture, Department of Education and Food and Drug Administration have, under provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, created their own paramilitary forces. And that these forces have conducted military-style raids on folks accused of nothing more serious that selling unpasteurized milk or committing student loan fraud.

The press release from Stewart’s office cites news reports that are said to document this fear. But clicking through those links reveals reports with conflicting views, denials and even, in at least one case, a correction where a news organization retracted a report that the Education Department maintains a SWAT team.

In each of those cases, the kind of arms used was not specified. And it was not always clear which actions were taken by federal, state or local authorities.

That’s why it makes sense that Stewart’s bill, in addition to prohibiting agencies other than those clearly in the law enforcement game from acquiring heavy weapons, requires the U.S. Comptroller General to make a real survey of the existence, or absence, of such squads, how they are trained and how often and under what circumstances they are activated. Because those are things we ought to know and don’t.

This bill is shoot first, ask questions afterward. But at least it asks the right questions.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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