You may recall back in 2014 that Arizona rancher Cliven Bundy briefly became the darling of the Conservative movement when a long-standing dispute with the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spilled over into an armed, but ultimately non-violent confrontation between Bundy’s supporters and the federal law enforcement crowd. Bundy was on his way to becoming the poster-boy for the Right until he uttered a series of racist comments (“let me tell you about your Negro”) that got him condemned by Fox News and that was the end of that.
Now he’s back in the public eye again because his three sons, along with as many as 150 other protestors, have taken over an unoccupied administration compound in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the jail sentences of two Oregon ranchers – Dwight and Steve Hammond – who were convicted of arson on national forest lands and now must serve five years in jail. The Bundy boys claim they are members of a well-armed militia and are prepared to use force to maintain local control over BLM land. As of Saturday night, the occupiers were feasting on chili brought up to them by friendly locals; meanwhile, the story is beginning to circulate on national media as well as the requisite Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Although the Bundy boys haven’t yet starting selling t-shirts, they make a point of referring to themselves and their merry band as a ‘militia,’ as well as making it clear that they are armed. Ammon Bundy has been quoted as saying that he and the others will fight and even die to defend what he refers to as the ‘Constitutional rights of states’ to manage their own lands. The occupation at Malheur is actually a spill-over from a Carson City rally led by Cliven Bundy to support a bill introduced by Rep. Michele Fiore allowing Nevada to seize and manage any federal property, even though there is no Constitutional provision that would actually allow for such a state of affairs. Fiore is the loony legislator who admits to bringing her handgun into gun-free zones because she claims to carry the piece in her bra, so what’s a girl supposed to do?
You can be sure that if this silliness at Malheur gets serious, we will see the usual liberal-conservative division of opinion that takes place whenever states’ rights versus federal authority hove into view. And one of the issues that will surely be raised is the alleged willingness of this Bundy militia to use armed force if necessary, particularly when the President is making headlines by considering more regulation of guns. Sooner or later we’ll be treated to a peroration by some gun nut about how these valiant freedom fighters are a living example of the sanctity of 2nd-Amendment rights. There were hundreds of such comments floating around during the Bundy ranch standoff in 2014, and I’ll quote just one: “The Bundy Ranch standoff is but the latest example as to why the Founding Fathers codified this Right to bear arms.”
But rather than just dismissing this kind of talk as the usual, right-wing rant over 2nd-Amendment rights, my friends in the GVP movement should take a moment and ask themselves whose ox is really being gored. Because when the SCOTUS decided in 2008 that Americans had the right to keep a handgun in their homes, it was liberals like Breyer and Stevens who dissented based on the idea that the 2nd Amendment only protected gun ownership in instances of military service completely disconnected from any kind of personal defense.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the Bundy boys or the idea that anyone should walk around armed. But if liberals want to believe that the 2nd Amendment reflects a tradition of resistance to government tyranny, then they need to be prepared to support such resistance, whether it comes from the Left or the Right. On the other hand, perhaps it would be more consistent just to junk the 2nd Amendment itself.