A group of armed protestors, including Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, occupied a building that was closed for the holidays in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon Saturday night, objecting to the sentencing of Dwight and Steven Hammonds and to federal land policy in the region. The Hammonds have been convicted of arson after having set fires on 130 acres of land leased from the federal government, claiming they were attempting to control invasive plant species and reduce the risk of wildfires. The protestors say they are prepared to hold out for years if necessary.
The Hammonds have a long history fighting over land use policy in the area. Dwight Hammond allegedly made death threats against land management employees in the 80s, and he and his son, Steven, were arrested for obstructing federal workers in 1994. The family has leased land from the federal government for ranching since 1964, and the arson conviction stems from fires they set in 2001 and 2006. The wildlife refuge itself is over a hundred years old, having been established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 on unclaimed government land as a sanctuary for native birds.
The federal ownership of lands west of the Mississippi goes back to the earliest days of our nation. Western lands were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, an agreement with England over the borders of the Oregon Territory, and the settlement of the Mexican-American War of 1848. Control of these lands was dubious from the beginning. The European powers seized them from the native populations through means that wouldn’t stand up in court today, and the war with Mexico was a naked grabbing of another country’s territory, but as the saying goes, possession is nine points of the law, and the land being debated is federal property—in other words, owned by all of us.
And there’s the problem. The land is owned by ranchers, environmentalists, hunters, tourists, miners, drillers, and by people looking for a place to live. This not nearly comprehensive list illustrates what makes settling this issue so difficult. Even if we agree that federal ownership of so much western land is a bad idea, to whom should we transfer control? The interest of fracking operations and ranchers, for example, run contrary to each other, and yet both groups frequently lay claim to the same land.
In any case, as the history and complexity show, this is not a matter to be settled by arson or armed occupation. The protestors have already been labeled Y’allQaeda, waging yeehawd on the U.S. government, and as sympathetic as I am to the lyrics of the song by Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter, “Don’t Fence Me In,” what’s being done in Oregon is the wrong way to conduct the wrong fight. The federal government isn’t telling us here that we can’t own or carry guns, believe or not believe whatever religion we choose, or speak our minds. Two men are going to prison for setting uncontrolled fires in a part of the country that is plagued every year with wildfires.
I have no doubt that all gun owners will be lumped in with these protestors by groups who seek to bring gun rights to an end, and I reject that characterization. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to speak out as a supporter of gun rights by saying that the protest in Oregon is wrong and does not represent me. History tells us that at times, governments must be fought. History also tells us that opportunists will take advantage of the slightest grievance, and those of us with good sense have to stay clear of that.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.