WASHINGTON, December 4, 2016 — The actions of a militant group in Oregon last weekend are likely to spur debate over gun control.
Following a peaceful demonstration by locals seeking clemency for ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, armed anti-federalist militiamen from outside of the area and members of the Bundy Family from Nevada seized control of the empty Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon on Saturday.
The militants say they are not trying to harm anyone, but threaten to defend themselves with force if authorities try to remove them. Though their behavior is reminiscent of eco-terrorists trying to avoid causalities, the armed group is an imminent threat to public safety.
Among the demands of the militants is the transfer of control over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to local authorities in order to make the land more available for ranching, logging, mining and recreational use.
The group’s overall aim is to supposedly restore the U.S. Constitution and reinstate states’ rights. To that end, the militants want to shrink the size of the federal government.
Like the rebels of the Civil War, these armed activists have taken their push for states’ rights from lawful political dissent to an armed insurgency.
The Second Amendment guarantees the rights of U.S. citizens “to keep and bear arms.” The First Amendment guarantees us the right to “peaceably assemble” and petition for “governmental redress of grievances.”
When armed protesters enter public property and threaten to shoot anyone who tries to confront them, however, that is not an exercise of their First and Second Amendment Rights. It is an act of militants who have crossed the divide between political dissent and armed insurgency.
The situation in Oregon is unlikely to devolve into protracted catastrophe. However, the actions of these individuals will feed the debate over gun control. Those actions combined with President Obama’s plan to introduce executive actions to bolster gun control laws are likely to help the anti-gun lobby.
President Obama is planning to increase the oversight of those who sell guns instead of trying to actually restrict access to guns.
Such measures and increased gun safety education are likely prudent measures that would be reasonable to most Americans under normal circumstances.
The problem, however, is President Obama’s use of executive orders. Not only does his expanded use of Presidential powers highlight the dysfunction of the political system, it is the culmination of congressional efforts over decades to shirk their own legislative responsibilities instead of overcoming political division.
Transferring congressional power to the executive branch has undermined the balance that helps ensure government does not exceed its boundaries or neglect the interests of US citizens.
It also creates resentment over those action which many Americans consider over-reach by the president. The anti-government militants in Oregon to some represent a stand for individual rights and an effort to counter what they see as ever-expanding government power. Their efforts will resonate with those groups strongly opposing “big government.”
However, the lawlessness of the group and its blatant disregard for the laws of the United States are likely to backfire. The seizure of the Oregon Refuge by these anti-government militants is only helping to legitimize the very government overreach they oppose.