The Burns Oregon Fiasco

Western stockmen and their supporters occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns Oregon for several weeks.  Apparently four remain in the refuge today.  I hope they are permitted to leave peacefully, but I doubt they will be allowed to leave without being arrested or killed.   One, Mr. LaVoy Finicum, was killed at a roadblock on his way to a meeting at John Day.  He said he would rather die than be arrested, and the LEO’s at the roadblock accommodated him.

The protesters are not new.  Many of the Western men present have been in similar protests before.  Until now, they didn’t involve the loss of life.  Waco and Ruby Ridge are entirely different events, having nothing to do with the issues at Burns, which are about federal management of grazing leases and allotments.  The Bundy sons were present with their father, Cliven Bundy, when he confronted the feds in Nevada.  He refused to pay grazing fees for his cattle on federal lands, so they took them.  He was not prosecuted, at least not yet, and his sons and others were emboldened by the pass the feds gave him.  So, unfortunately, were many others who are not from the area, are not ranchers, have an agenda different from the Bundy’s, and who mostly swiftly disappeared after the shooting of Mr. Finicum.

The truly sad part is this has all been done before, and the outcome of such protests is predictable.  One has only to look at the Diamond Bar Ranch case, about which I have written before, (link below the fold) to find out that the federal government owns the majority of the West, that it controls the use of lands which it owns, and those who don’t comply will be removed – peacefully or otherwise – but removed.  The sad story of the Laney’s is repeated more than 15 years later, as a cattleman without cattle is lost, and the larger question of who owns and controls federal lands has been legally settled.  It is the United States government, right or wrong.

The United States Supreme Court (and other federal courts) is tasked with the job of interpreting the Constitution.  Not the Bundy’s, the militia, the posse comitatus, your average cowboy, or you or me.  We can disagree with any interpretation, and have our own opinions, but at the end of the day whatever the SCOTUS says is the law of the land.  Living in a democracy requires one to live with rules, regulations, laws and edicts which one does not like.  One is always free to leave and live elsewhere, but living here requires adherence to the law of the land whether one likes it or not. Protest is protected if properly done, opposing views can still be aired, we are still free to disagree with each other as we so often do, but we are not free to take action which is contrary to the law of the land.  We are a nation of laws.  Most of us have no problem with that, unless we get caught doing something illegal.

So, the occupation at Malheur is about over.  Feds one, protesters jail or dead.  Such a shame.  The matter of federal control of federal lands must be litigated each time issues arise.  Past attempts to apply eminent domain principles to federal grazing lands have been predictably unsuccessful.  That does not mean, however, that the federal government is wholly right and the Western protesters wholly wrong.  There is a great deal of improvement to be made by agents of the BLM, USFS, USF&WS and other regulatory bodies, and the stockmen have issues which should be carefully listened to and remedied.  But the ownership of those lands, and the grazing fees imposed upon them, are here to stay, and the idea that ranchers somehow acquire title to those lands by having used them for years or generations is never going to fly. Read the opinions in the Diamond Bar case.

The federal government owns about 50% of Western states’ lands.  They are everywhere.  Our national parks comprise much of this, but the vast majority is land not totally suitable to many endeavors other than cattle raising.  Of .course natural resources and wildlife must be protected, and cattlemen must learn to operate in ways which protect those resources/wildlife, but a systemic attack through the legal system is the only way anything will be accomplished which does not turn out as has the Malheur protest.  I mourn the life which was lost.  All lives are important.  As importantly, I mourn the tragedy which has befallen the families of Harney County and elsewhere, including the families of the protesters, and I fervently wish the remaining occupiers to leave peacefully.  There may be arrests, but arrest trumps death where I live.

Whichever side you are on, I wish you well, and I hope you will attempt to redress your grievances in the court system.  That’s what the Constitution requires.



Find a report of the Diamond Bar case Here








Gun Control Madness

One of the most frustrating and infuriating aspects of our culture is our relentless rush to attack symptoms rather than causes.  This proclivity is evident in our pill-popping for whatever ails us, and by masking the symptoms so we can keep on plowing, working or doing something other than taking care of ourselves, while ignoring the fact that we sometimes get sick and avoiding sickness is more important and effective than popping pills.  But, of course, there is no money in wellness.

The strident calls for gun control, whatever that means, are simply more rants against the symptoms of a sick society, and a focus on those symptoms rather than a rational evaluation of the causes and how to change them.  All I hear is the “NyQuil” approach, which won’t cure a cold, but which will numb the body and mask the symptoms.  Eliminating the cough will not eliminate the cold; burdening the millions of law-abiding gun owners, hunters and others by targeting guns will not end the mass violence which prompts the discussion.  It is too late for this approach; there are too many guns and it is too easy to get one on the street.

It seems to me the best evidence that many confuse the symptoms with the causes is seen looking back 25 years or so.  There were just as many guns per capita then as now, but mass shootings were relatively rare, and mostly took the lives of less people.  Depending upon whose figures you like, there are 200-300 million firearms in the US, and there were about that many 25 years ago.  Even if there were less back then, there were also less people, so the per capita ratio was essentially the same.

Growing up in Wyoming, it was rare to see a pickup without a rifle or two in the rear window.  There was also a handgun in the glove box, and perhaps another under the seat.  I never saw a gun used against another human (of course there was the occasional drunk cowboy shooting,) and the most recent mass shooting occurred at Casper College in central Wyoming when a man entered and killed 2 with a bow and arrow.  Wyoming appears to have more firearms per capita than other states, and less shootings, although hard numbers are hard to come by.  There are two reasons for this:  the first is that children are taught firearm safety at home and in some schools (I used to teach it in elementary schools,) and the second is that a gun in Wyoming is looked upon as a tool to protect livestock from predators, to take game animals, and to dispense roadside beer cans (and sometimes mail boxes.)  Everything I am aware of that many Wyoming children are taught is aimed at no one getting shot, no one getting hurt, and all efforts exerted to the safe handling and use of firearms.

City kids on the other hand mostly do not get this.  What they do get is superbly demonstrated in the first 15 minutes of “Born on the Fourth of July,” where the young boys are encouraged to play “war” with toy guns.  They shoot at each other, play dead, play war, go home.  They play paintball with guns, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians.  Toy guns are everywhere.  How many boys were given toy weapons this Christmas?  Look around you.  As we give dolls to girls so they will later handle babies, we give toy guns to boys so they will later fight our wars.  Is it any wonder, then, that we have a culture of violence in which guns are misused to inflict injury and death by those who are the cause?  We support and approve it in our young people, to say nothing of the violence of movies and television which surround us 24/7.

The tragic killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland shines as an example of what we teach our children.  A toy gun took a human life.  It’s difficult to blame the police, although police training needs great improvement, as the toy gun this child had looked like a real one (no red tip on the barrel) and the officer had only  a second or two to decide what to do.  I do not judge nor blame, I just cry.  A child is dead; an adult has to live the rest of his life knowing he killed a child.  The child was innocent, but had a toy gun which looked real, and had it in our culture which approves giving children toy firearms and then wonders why, later on, there is real gun violence.  Hear this:  it was the toy gun which killed this child.  Had it not been present, there would have been no shooting and no death.

I am as committed as anyone to ending gun violence.  I do not want anyone to be killed, most of all family and friends.  I do not want guns to be used to assault society by those who blame people they haven’t met for problems they don’t take responsibility for.  But I am convinced that NyQuilling the symptoms will not produce the desired result.  That will take a cultural paradigm shift, especially in the way we deal with mental health.  We must remove the stigma stamped upon those who seek mental health treatment, be ready to be proactive if we see something which is worrisome in another, pay attention to those communicating in whatever way an intention to do harm to others, and act when action is warranted.

I believe in closing the gun show and informal individual transfer of firearms loop holes, and all efforts to keep firearms away from the mentally challenged.  But we will do this in part, I suggest, by changing our culture of violence so that mental health is advocated, promoted and provided, rather than residing in our tunnel vision of firearms, and thinking if we control guns we control gun violence.  The thing about guns is, it’s just too late.  They’re there, and if not one gun was sold from today forward, there are still 300 million or so around, and all one wants available on the black market.

We need to toss the NyQuil and take care of ourselves.