Bunkerville and the Second Amendment

Despite wide-spread concerns, the protest at Bunkerville shows how and why the Second Amendment is so necessary – and more importantly, that it works.

Many have been concerned about the situation that developed and what has transpired thus far between the BLM and the Cliven Bundy Family in Bunkerville, Nevada. For those who have somehow missed it, in a nutshell it has developed into an ongoing armed stand-off between Cliven Bundy — a stubborn rancher — and the Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy maintains that he has pre-emptive rights to graze the land, and that the BLM would not be the rightful recipient of any grazing fees that might be paid. Although this issue has been brewing for years, ultimately, the BLM not only sought to remove and impound Bundy’s cattle, the BLM sought to 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 the mobilization of armed militias rallying to Bundy’s aid. This resulted in a large protest, including full exercise of First Amendment rights along with Second Amendment rights. Along with other factors, this 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.

Based on the situation, some have been concerned that with citizens 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 – the situation has been viewed by many to be a powder keg bound to ultimately explode and end in bloodshed.

But despite a major physical confrontation, what has happened thus far shows how and why the Second Amendment works 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 recent 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.

In this case, regardless of who you may think is right or wrong – the BLM for seeking to remove Bundy’s 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 this context are the epitome of heavy-handed federal tyranny.

On the other side of the equation, 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 this 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 (so far). 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. Unfortunately, because Senator Harry Reid believes Bundys have broken the law and must be held accountable, in his words “it’s not over.” One of the most troubling aspects of Senator Reid’s statement is that the BLM continually breaks the law in a variety of ways, and is engaging in ever increasing heavy-handedness and tyranny, yet it continually walks away with zero accountability.

Because of the extremely lop-sided balance of power that has developed between the federal government and states; the lack of effective governmental checks and balances, and because governments so often refuse to govern themselves, at the end of the day the Second Amendment is the ultimate check on Governmental Tyranny – just as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, and as the founders intended.