The FBI and DHS’s apparently vast orders are deceptively presented by the conspiracy theorists. It is true that in 2011, the FBI ordered up to 100 million bullets for its 13,913 special agents (which works out to 7,187 per agent). And, yes, the Department of Homeland Security — a composite department that oversees USCIS, Customs and Border Protection, FEMA, ICE, the TSA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and the National Protection Directorate — placed a request for up to 450 million rounds for its 65,000 armed personnel (which works out to 6,923 per agent).
But in the real world, ammunition is not divided up and handed out on such a basis. What is bought is stockpiled and then allocated on the basis of need. The DHS’s order is expected to last for at least five years, and it was placed up front primarily as a cost-saving measure. Moreover, as the chief of staff to Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R., Georgia) revealed in a press release in May 2012 that was designed to calm the fears of his constituents:
DHS entered into a contract that allows them to purchase up to 450 million rounds of 40 caliber ammunition over the next five years. They cannot exceed 450 million rounds and are not required to purchase 450 million rounds. Basically, they have a tab with a manufacturer to order more rounds as they are needed over the next five years — not a one-time ammunition order.
Think of it like “that monthly trip to Sam’s Club or Costco,” he added.
The popular claim that one in five IRS agents is armed is false, too. Only 3 percent of IRS agents — 2,725 people, to be precise — are “special agents” who work on criminal cases. Also untrue, but a popular talking point: The legions of new IRS agents expected to be hired to enforce Obamacare will be armed. I am second to none in wishing that the IRS did not exist, and that, if it must, it did not have Obamacare to enforce. But that is no excuse for fearmongering, and Ron Paul’s infamous claim that the IRS was set to hire 16,500 “armed bureaucrats” in order to enforce the new health-care law, not backed up in fact, has launched a thousand deranged e-mail chains.
And the Department of Education? The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss looked into the question of those shotguns in 2010 and received the following response from the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General:
The Office of Inspector General is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Education and is responsible for the detection of waste, fraud, abuse, and other criminal activity involving Federal education funds, programs, and operations. As such, OIG operates with full statutory law-enforcement authority, which includes conducting search warrants, making arrests, and carrying firearms. The acquisition of these firearms is necessary to replace older and mechanically malfunctioning firearms, and in compliance with Federal procurement requirements.
Fair enough. But here one starts to sympathize with the malcontents. There is a world of difference between the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or Forest Service and the Department of Education, and that there is no grand clandestine plan for the subjugation of America should by no means be taken to imply that every government action is acceptable. Questions do still abound: Whether it is in possession of one bullet or 1 million bullets, should the federal Department of Education be armed in the first place? If so, why? Should its OIG be investigating external fraud rather than handing it over to the police or the DOJ or the FBI? For those federal departments that play no role in combating domestic and foreign threats — such as the DoE — what would constitute a threat requiring armed confrontation with malefactors?
In 2011, a story about a Department of Education raid went the rounds. Initial versions suggested that the department had commissioned a SWAT team to break into a California home and arrest the estranged husband of a woman who had defaulted on her student loan. Mercifully, this was incorrect. There was no SWAT team involved, nor was the target being investigated for unpaid loans. But the reality was not necessarily much better. Instead, the DoE announced that it had conducted the raid itself, in pursuit of an American citizen that it suspected of “bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.” It was a disaster; the suspect no longer lived in the house, a fact that special agents eventually discovered after they had smashed in the doors at dawn, thrown the occupant’s children into a police car, and kept the suspect’s (innocent) husband in handcuffs in a hot squad car for six hours.
As the local ABC affiliate reported, in an attempt to clear up the confusion, “police officers did not participate in breaking [the target’s] door, handcuffing him, or searching his home.” Instead, the Department of Education did. Judging by their ammunition purchases, the Social Security Administration and the IRS could have done so, too. That, and not fantasies about a plan to counter phantom civil unrest, is what should concern Americans.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.