What will surely be forever known as the Oregon Standoff is over, and it should be no surprise to anyone that it failed utterly to accomplish anything for the misguided fools who took over a remote government outpost. Well, it did get someone killed, a senseless and futile death to be sure, and that probably will give the constitutionally misinformed a martyr of sorts.
One good thing did come out of the whole silly business, however. It put the lie to the fantasy that a well-armed citizenry is any kind of counterbalance to an oppressive government.
During the standoff, which I watched from afar on television, laptop, and smart phone, there was another struggle going on against government oppression, one in which I am involved pretty much up to my neck. It is the struggle of landowners across Colorado to get someone to listen to their travails against the Colorado Department of Revenue, the Division of Real Estate, and the Attorney General’s office.
While the Malheur invaders were abandoning their guns, holding up their hands, and facing a litany of federal criminal charges – in other words, failing miserably to affect any change in government – the farmers and ranchers of Landowners United were succeeding in getting the attention of the Colorado Legislature. When the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee shakes his head in disbelief and says, “We have to do something,” one can just smell the change that’s in the air.
There are two differences between these two battles with government. The first is that the Landowners United bunch actually has a legitimate grievance against its government. The Malheur rabble – um, not so much. Government funds haven’t been used to pay for abortions since 1976, and the rest of their blah-blah was about imaginary slights and, as one Salon.com writer put it, the loss of privileges they were never entitled to in the first place.
The second difference – and the more important one – is that those who failed did so with guns in their hands and those who are succeeding are doing so with legal papers under their arms. The government simply isn’t afraid of Americans with guns, probably because that government owns more and bigger guns than most Americans can even imagine. But let an American sit at a table in the very seat of government and tell that government, in impassioned and clear language, how it has wronged him, and that government has no choice but to listen.
The juxtaposition of these two struggles points directly to the error in believing that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in any way works as a check on abuses of government. It just isn’t true. That’s not to say a well-armed citizenry wouldn’t be helpful (though probably not decisive) in defending against organized outside aggression. I’ll be there on the front lines with my trusty .30-30, should ISIL ever parachute into Logan County, and I appreciate that there is a constitutional guarantee of my right to own that rifle.
I am under no illusion, however, that my right to own a gun keeps my government at bay. If I get tired of having my property constantly over-valued for property taxes, I won’t accomplish anything by waving a gun in the county assessor’s face, except get myself arrested. If I want lower taxes, I’ll take my case down the road to the courtrooms overlooking the river.
I’ve watched citizens calling their government to account all my life and it’s been my experience that the ones who are successful sit at the plaintiff’s table, not at the defendant’s.