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In the wake of the horrible tragedy at Oklahoma City, much has been written and said about various militia groups across the country. Closely linked with the nationwide Patriot movement, these groups tend to revere the Constitution and Bill of Rights while condemning much of the federal government and its various agencies.

Most of the recent furor over militias has centered on whether their anti-government views and their conspiratorial notions about a New World Order, one-world political and economic systems and sundry other dubious beliefs provoke acts of violence against the government such as the Oklahoma City bombing. The media attention has sparked an interest in these groups across the country. Missouri is home to at least four militias, including one -- the Missouri Volunteers -- that is recruiting members for a possible company in Cape Girardeau.

There likely are many unstable and potentially dangerous people who have joined the militia movement. But that can be said about almost any large group of people. What must be addressed is not whether there might be some tangential link between militias and the Oklahoma City bombing, but whether government should take a more active role in regulating or restricting such groups.

To do so risks feeding militia members' paranoia, turning their far-fetched conspiracies into self-fulfilling prophecies. It also risks more government intrusion in the lives of citizens the government deems sympathizers with paramilitary, anti-government militias.

But does federal inaction invite more home-grown terrorism? It shouldn't. After all, there are laws already on the books allowing investigations into and arrests of suspected lawbreakers where there exists probable cause.

However, probable cause doesn't include stockpiling legal firearms, marching around in camouflage fatigues and spewing conspiracy theories about big government, big business, the United Nations and something called the Trilateral Commission. As with many laws, however, once new federal regulations are applied, it is likely that distinctions would become blurred between probable cause to prevent real crimes and the unconstitutional abridgement of the rights of American citizens to speak, assemble and, yes, bear arms.

That is why Americans must demand their elected officials take care before expanding government authority in their lives in hasty reaction to a tragedy that, horrible as it was, is a rare occurrence.