Right now the Second Amendment is viewed as toxic in many quarters, and politically incorrect to even mention.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Iron County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar City. It was a grand event, at which both Mitt Romney and a myriad of local, state and national candidates spoke, along with Entrata CEO, Dave Bateman, and former Texas Congressman Ron Paul as the keynote speaker. I couldn’t help but contrast the apparent principled underpinnings and priorities of Iron County Republicans with the Republican Party in Millard County, where I live, where fundamental party principles take a very distinct back seat to personality factors and considerations.
Just for starters, the Iron County Republicans brought in Ron Paul, who is one of few politicians in this country actually associated with any clear principles, as the keynote speaker. They also asked another person, who is known for his principles — newly liberated and fully acquitted Ryan Bundy — to offer the invocation (opening prayer) on the whole event. And the political candidates who spoke made multiple respectful references to the Bundys, their whole ordeal, and the recent outcome of their landmark cases.
The stark difference between the apparent priorities and guiding principles of the Republican Party leadership in these two Southern Utah counties that share the same neighborhood was fairly evident. The people the Iron County Republicans seemed to be most interested in hearing from were people renowned for their principles, even though they haven’t always been the most popular personalities.
But I also couldn’t help but note the stark contrast between the sentiments expressed on that occasion, with the rhetoric of the past 2-4 years while the Bundy events were unfolding and the cases were pending, when many of the very same people – including the vast majority of politicians and party leaders at all levels — considered and treated the Bundys as completely toxic, and did everything in their power to distance themselves, happy to use a whole plethora of derogatory labels, ranging from “rednecks” and “radicals” to “extremists” and “domestic terrorists” – even “The Virus”– to put them down.
I was amazed to see how quickly some people were willing to about-face — particularly when they are easily blown around by the winds of political expediency, and those winds start blowing from another direction – and they become the epitome of fair weather friends.
Setting all the other Bundy-related issues aside – everything from public land jurisdiction, property rights, and grazing fees to awkward statements, etc. — however, few have yet to acknowledge the invaluable contribution the Bundys, their supporters, and the outcome of the cases against them have made at a very critical juncture for protection of the Second Amendment.
For several years now, the Second Amendment has been under very serious attack, but seemingly never more so than right now. On the liberal agenda, nothing exceeds the priority of overturning District of Columbia v. Heller, and/or completely repealing the Second Amendment. When we now have retired U.S. Supreme Court Justices proposing repeal of the Second Amendment, we know that the pressure is seriously mounting.
But during a time of relentless attack, the outcome of the cases against the Bundys and their supporters in Nevada and Oregon have done more to protect the Second Amendment than anything since the Heller case was decided in 2008, now 10 years ago.
How, and perhaps more importantly, why, are the Bundy cases so important?
Although the Bundy issue(s) had been brewing for years, ultimately, the BLM and the FBI sought not only to remove and impound Bundys’ cattle, they sought to completely militarize the impoundment operation. To that end, the BLM engaged in a number of very heavy-handed and intimidating tactics, including the deployment of a large armed security force, which included both BLM “rangers” and private security contractors (mercenaries), including snipers, SWAT teams and riot police. The BLM also sought to seriously limit anyone and everyone’s access to the so-called public land, and persuaded the FAA to implement a No-fly Zone. The BLM also sought to seriously restrict anyone and everyone’s First Amendment Rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.
In response to these developments, a number of average Americans became very concerned about the BLM’s tactics, which not only resulted in a significant number of “normal” people mobilizing to the scene to protest the BLM’s actions, but also resulted in active exercise of the Second Amendment. This resulted in a large protest, including full exercise of both First Amendment rights and Second Amendment rights. Along with other factors, this armed protest persuaded the BLM to temporarily discontinue its cattle impoundment efforts, after which the protesters confronted BLM forces and demanded return of the already impounded cattle.
Something very similar subsequently happened in Harney County, Oregon less than two years later, when average Americans once again rallied in support of embattled ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, which ultimately resulted in an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
In both those situations, many, including essentially everyone in the mainstream media, raged about the very thought of citizens in cowboy hats and camouflage protesting while bearing arms, and actively exercising their Second Amendment rights, including visible presence of members of private militias – who are often perceived as dangerous radical extremists just looking for an excuse to engage in violent conflict.
Ironically, however, in the end, all the so-called radical, extremist gun-nuts exercised complete restraint, and it was only the government actors who engaged in violence, resulting in the needless bloodshed of LaVoy Finicum. And then to add insult to injury, they lied about it in an attempt to cover-up what really happened.
But despite situations involving major physical confrontations, they each ended up demonstrating the need for the Second Amendment, and how it can work exactly how it was intended.
Because so few people actually understand the Second Amendment, and it is continually being brought under attack, it is worth considering the U.S. Supreme Court’s discussion of Second Amendment rights in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637, 76 USLW 4631 (2008).
In the Heller case, the High Court made the following observations:
“One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms.” Consequently, one of the purposes of the Second Amendment “is to secure a well-armed militia. . . . But a militia would be useless unless the citizens were enabled to exercise themselves in the use of warlike weapons. To preserve this privilege, and to secure to the people the ability to oppose themselves in military force against the usurpations of government, as well as against enemies from without, government is forbidden by any law or proceeding to invade or destroy the right to keep and bear arms.
The Heller Court went on to say:
The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a “right of the people . . . [which] unambiguously refer[s] to individual rights, not “collective” rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body. . . .We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans. . . . The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed. . . . This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment declares that it [is a pre-existing right that] shall not be infringed . . . .”
According to the Heller Court:
During the 1788 ratification debates, the fear that the federal government would disarm the people in order to impose rule through a standing army or select militia was pervasive in [the Federalist/Anti-Federalist Debate]. The Federalists contended that because Congress was given no power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms, such a force could never oppress the people. [Consequently], it was understood across the political spectrum that the right helped to secure the ideal of a citizen militia, which might be necessary to oppose an oppressive military force if the constitutional order broke down.
Quoting St. George Tucker’s version of the Blackstone Commentaries, the Court also noted:
“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty . . . . The right to self-defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine the right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
Six years later, both in Bunkerville, and then again in Harney County Oregon, the Federal Government demonstrated exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court had been talking about in Heller – because regardless of who you may think was right or wrong – the BLM for seeking to remove Bundys’ purportedly “trespassing” cattle based on alleged failure to pay grazing fees — or Cliven Bundy for stubbornly resisting — if there is one word that best describes the BLM’s decisions and heavy-handed actions to militarize the operation, that word is “Tyranny.” The BLM’s actions in that context were the epitome of heavy-handed federal tyranny. And Bundys and their supporters tested the very core philosophical underpinnings of Second Amendment doctrine in resistance.
On that score, it is often said (and even more often thought), that civilians who wear camouflage and pack guns, including semi-automatic assault rifles, are nothing short of radical extremists just itching for a fight, and will use any excuse or provocation to engage in violent conflict. If ever there was a perfect opportunity to prove that theory correct, it was the armed confrontation that resulted in the return of the Bundy cattle, in which both armed and unarmed citizens confronted and faced off with an army of BLM rangers and contracted security forces (mercenaries).
But, to many peoples’ amazement, no shots were fired in Bunkerville. No blood was shed. And in terms of actual checks and balances, the presence of weapons on both sides ultimately served very well as a mutual deterrent.
Regarding the Nevada case against the Bundys based on the Bunkerville Standoff, in her ruling dismissing the case with prejudice, Judge Navarro expressly found that the federal government and the prosecution had repeatedly lied about what happened, and engaged in “reckless, outrageous, flagrant misconduct in violating the due process and constitutional rights of the defendants . . . that was so outrageous that no lesser remedy than dismissal with prejudice would be sufficient.”
In the end, with fundamental rights and principles at stake in both Nevada and Oregon, the outcomes of those trials have only served to strengthen the foundational basis of the Second Amendment – the inherent, inalienable, God-given right to defend oneself, one’s property, and/or others who are under attack — even from federal tyranny.
And even fair weather friends have both Bundys and their supporters to thank for that.