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It’s no wonder so many citizens in the West are seeing black helicopters and United Nations plots behind every federal government initiative. It’s no wonder Mel Gibson’s “Conspiracy Theory” is No. 1 at the box office. We’re not paranoid. They really are after us.

What am I talking about? The last couple of years has witnessed the biggest arms buildup in the history of the federal government. No, I don’t mean the Defense Department budget is growing. Far from it. That would actually be Constitutional. It might even make sense.

No. The kind of arms that are proliferating in Washington these days are the kind pointed at our own civilian population and carried by a growing number of federal police forces with ever-larger budgets and ever-deadlier arsenals.

In 1996, alone, reports WorldNetDaily’s Sarah Foster, at least 2,439 new federal cops were authorized to carry firearms. As a result of that record one-year surge, there are approximately 50,000 armed federal agents representing departments as diverse as the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Post Office.

The Environmental Protection Agency? That’s right. The same one that has proved so adept at blowing up industrial plants with its faulty emissions-control devices. Hey, maybe these guys and gals have found their calling at last — killing people and breaking things.

But, I suspect, most Americans would be shocked to learn that agents of the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers are actually packing heat. Has the protection of spotted owls and kangaroo rats become a matter of life and death?

A few months ago, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt tried to arm the Bureau of Land Management, thus forming another yet another division of enviro-cops. Only a flurry of controversy sparked by one man, Tom McDonnell of the American Sheep Industry Association, temporarily stalled the move.

Ironically, in justifying its need to carry weapons and exert police authority over its 268 million acres of land in the western states, the BLM had cited the long and growing list of other federal agencies — like the EPA and Fish and Wildlife — with criminal law enforcement powers. Following such logic, it’s only a matter of time before officials at the National Endowment for the Arts are authorized to carry guns.

But the arms proliferation at the federal government level is no joke. People are dying because of it — innocent people. Where is the American Civil Liberties Union when you need them?

The founders of this country never envisioned the need for a federal police force. They saw the inherent dangers in such ideas. Leaders like Bill Clinton and George Bush, however, have no respect for the Constitution and the limited powers of the federal government. As a result, what we have today is a virtual standing army of armed federal cops.

Most of the growth is not, ironically, in the large, traditional agencies such as the FBI. Rather, it is among the enviro-cops, whose numbers soared from 2,471 in 1987 to 4,204 as of last September — a 70 percent increase. Do you feel safer now?

Experts who have been watching such developments over the last few years say all this is leading one place — to the establishment of a genuine national police force. You can see it in the way the FBI now routinely interferes in local law enforcement affairs. You can also see it in the plans of big-government architects like Vice President Al Gore, who has urged that Treasury Department police agencies — such as the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — be placed under the control of the Justice Department.

I’ve got a better idea. Let’s disband BATF.

Government is always telling citizens to give up their weapons. Maybe the citizens of this nation should turn the tables on government. Maybe you’re right, Mr. Clinton. Perhaps it is time for gun control. Let’s start by disarming your rogue federal cops.

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