Home » Philosophy » Ethics » Shot-Sighted


As a boy that grew up scampering through the sage brush on the hills above the school, when we stopped for a bathroom break on one of our early camping trips, my first thought was to duck under the barbed-wire fence and wander in the woods it protected. I was tame enough to check first with my mother, who drew my attention to the sign:


Violators will be shot on sight

 “Don’t they have to give you a warning first?”

“That is the warning,” my father observed.

Looking up and down the lonely road, I thought, “But what if their car broke down and they need help?”

It was my first collision with the thought that property ownership trumped human life, and I was a little shaken by the experience.

I don’t see the signs much in my area any more – perhaps because most of the agriculture and ranching has disappeared. But technology may also have something to do with it: with helicopters and radio trackers, it’s probably pretty hard for cattle rustlers to disappear into the wilderness, and aerial crop dusting probably dissuades most casual fruit pickers. The spread of drone aircraft will also make easier to bring thieves to justice without risk of a confrontation.

It was only later that I learned that these signs were also posted frequently by those engaged in illegal activity. The classic image is the moonshine distiller or hillbilly sending off the “revenooer.” But I was confronted by another case when working on a friend’s deck up in Redding one summer. A piercing scream of terror came from the house across the fence – but there was the sign. None of the locals so much as turned a head in concern. I guess it wasn’t the first time.

The Bundy Family now camped out at the Wildlife Refuge in Oregon says that they are “defending their way of life.” One of their number, finding himself in the minority in a discussion of violent confrontation, went out to make a stand in the cold, observing that he had grown up with the wind in his hair and the sun on his face, and he would rather die than spend a single day in jail. On hearing this, I thought of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. A defense industry engineer, laid off and denied visitation rights to his child, trades in weapons in an escalating rampage, finally being gunned down before his daughter.

The Sheriff in Oregon has asked the invaders to leave, observing that they don’t have the right to come in with their guns and tell them how to live. But I wonder if anybody has asked the Bundy’s to consider what would happen if we all chose to act as they did. Will they take cause with the older software developer, defaulting on his mortgage because ageism makes it difficult to find employment?

The scariest exhibition, however, was the Alabama legislator who avowed on national television last night that the reason we have remained a democracy is because our government is afraid to confront its armed citizens. Comparing the M-1 Abrams tank and fighter jets to the hand-held weaponry in the homes of our citizen militias, we might draw a comparison with the armed knights of the middle age and every farmer with a pitchfork. Comparable parity of weaponry in the Middle Ages did not deter tyranny, nor does it do so today.

The Founders designed an institutional system that pitted the three branches of government against each other in a federation of states with their own security services. This institutional competition was designed to prevent any one branch or level of government from being able to impose its will on citizens. That the legislator suffers from a such a deep misunderstanding of how our constitutional system safeguards our liberties is perhaps the most frightening aspect of this situation, particularly because it has often been the Federal Government that has stepped in to ensure the rights of those intimidated by state and local authorities.

Devolving coercive power down to the citizens seems to promise only that those that relish and glorify violence will be able to terrorize those that don’t. We’ve worked long and hard to escape that condition. Why give in to it now?

10 thoughts on “Shot-Sighted

  1. Well Brian, I assume you didn’t grow up hunting, protecting yourself from bears and cougars, and you probably didn’t grow up dirt poor either? Those of us down on the bottom would find these words laughable, “it has often been the Federal Government that has stepped in to ensure the rights of those intimidated by state and local authorities.” Followed by “Devolving coercive power down to the citizens seems to promise only that those that relish and glorify violence will be able to terrorize those that don’t.”

    That what I call privilege. Those who have lived such safe and comfortable lives, that they assume protection (by guns, ) is only a phone call away.

    I chuckled about you mocking “revenooers.” You’ve never met them either, have you? They haven’t changed much since the days of moonshiners. They’ve raided businesses I’ve worked for a few times and scared the heck out of us little wage people. Back taxes owed each time. We were not only terrorized by our own Gov, but we were left unemployed and unpaid. I don’t much care for the revenooers.

    • You have broadened the context of analysis, IB, far beyond the focus of my comments or the situation in Oregon.

      I have been stalked by animal predators more than once. I did not feed their spirits with fear. I simply sent them the message “Go and kill something that can’t talk.” They obliged.

      In your interaction with the “revenooers”, were you engaged in illegal commerce? Or was it that your employer was engaged in illegal commerce by failing to pay taxes, lining their pockets at the communities expense? If so, then it was not the fault of the tax collectors that you lost employment and wages. If not, then you had the recourse of appeal to your political representatives, and to protest.

      Are you suggesting that if you had all been carrying guns something would have come out differently?

      What Jesus taught us is that it is by banding together in caring community that these problems are made light.

  2. Brian, I don’t agree with an armed protest but I do think there is plenty reason to be upset with the federal overreach when it comes to the Bundy’s and ranch lands in general. The Bundy’s by the way were not part of the protesters and have in fact publicly stated they don’t agree with their tactics.

    This case was settled several years ago after the Bundy’s were dragged through the ringer and prosecuted and sent to jail after a fire they had set on their own property (common in ranches to get rid of deadwood) spread to federal lands and burned all of an acre. A common sense judge saw the outrageousness of the sentence and released them after a year and now for whatever reason another one has decided they need to serve 5 more years in prison. That’s insane.

    Please read the back story here for a deeper perspective, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/429214/oregon-rancher-protests-civil-disobedience-justified

    If you’re not deeply disturbed by the actions of our federal government here, I don’t know what to say.

    Also, it’s my understanding that the Bundy’s are not the ones protesting and have stated publicly they don’t agree with the tactics.

    • I think that we’ve got an identity issue. The Bundy’s are involved in the occupation. The Hammonds that were sent to jail have actually disclaimed the intervention and told the Bundy’s to go home. So in reading your comment, I think that we should substitute “Hammond” for “Bundy”.

      Mandatory sentencing guidelines are a disaster everywhere. They have decimated the African American community. However, they are quite popular among the politicians that defend 2nd Amendment rights. They can’t have their cake and eat it too – although they sure try, because in creating an underclass of African American felons, they have significantly reduced Democratic voter rolls.

      So I agree that mandatory sentencing guidelines are a problem, but they conviction that they need to change comes from my interactions with prison communities and children in the inner city. But I appreciate your interest in the issue.

    • Whoops, you are absolutely right about it being the Hammonds who are off to prison and the Bundy’s who are at the center of the occupation. Sorry about that and thanks for the correction!

      Gotta disagree with you that this is a mere “mandatory sentencing” issue though. It goes way beyond that in to abuse and harassment by the federal government. That’s something every citizen, left or right should be outraged by.

    • Tricia: I would agree that the Hammonds have been through a difficult time. I think that they are caught in a shift in land-use priorities from production to conservation, and particularly endangered species recovery. That also entails the growth of wildlife tourism and usage that may compete with ranching activities.

      We have stories similar to this in many urban areas under development or redevelopment. People that insist that their property rights trump the public interest often face difficulties (at all levels of government, whether local, county, state or federal), particularly when large bond issues are accruing interest. In the case of open-range ranching, I can see a great deal of frustration arising in the people concerned with accomplishment of the original purposes of the refuge.

      An anecdote in this vein: the Native Americans in New England did not fence their gardens, because they did not have livestock. The immigrants allowed their livestock to roam freely. When they entered Indian land and destroyed the gardens, the Indians killed the animals. Not only did the Indians lose their produce, they were forced to pay for the livestock, which generally forced them off of their land.

      Would I have followed the tactics of the BLM? It’s hard to know where to draw the line. I don’t know how ranching affects the purposes of the refuge. I don’t fault the BLM for revoking the range rights – that’s consistent with a change in public policy. The legal manipulations and other tactics seem out of bounds, though.

      I do wish that the Hammonds had relocated their ranch when they were offered the money to do so.

    • And, just to clarify, the original post was not a defense of the legitimacy of the federal action against the Hammonds. It was to question whether the justifications offered by the occupiers of the refuge are legitimate. I offer examples that suggest that if they are, then the scope of our concern must be broadened greatly. I also indicate my concern that the focus on Second Amendment rights distracts us from exercise of the mechanisms specified by the Founding Father’s that are intended to expose and rein in governmental tyranny. For example: why did no one in Oregon State government take up the Hammond cause? Sounds like that should have been popular locally.

    • Yes, after reading your post again I do see your objective. I jumped the gun (no pun intended, well maybe…) to the defense of the Hammonds because I’ve seen their story so widely inaccurately portrayed on the news and in other social media. That was me being overly sensitive and not reading your post carefully enough.

      There is a lot of corruption and abuse going in within the BLM, especially in areas where the tussle between wide open spaces and federal preserves are happening like Oregon. This article gives a good summary of what’s been going on over the years, take a look if you will. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/429266/oregon-rancher-protest-federal-agencies-out-control

      Someone in the OR state govt did take up the Hammonds cause which was why they were released from prison after serving very little time. There is no reason to pick this up again and send them back to jail for 5 more years aside from petty vindictiveness in my opinion.

      Private property rights are the backbone of any free society. Government will always grow and grab for more claiming it’s for this or that common good. It’s never right for unaccountable bureaucrats to tyrannize people like that. Like I said, I don’t think armed protests are smart but certainly a pushback here is warranted.

      Again, just my opinion…;)

    • And thanks for bringing the details to light. This is indeed an incredibly complex situation.

      The injection of the Native American viewpoint following the occupation was also interesting. When the Federal interest was in establishing private property rights, the Indians were certainly the losers in that struggle. And in cases of eminent domain, the government is also generally required to provide fair value for land ceded in the public interest. Where things tend to go terribly wrong is when there’s a hidden interest on the government side (such as developers in the background) or property owners that have a deep emotional connection to their land. From reading the documentation, it also appears that the Hammonds were dependent upon access to Federal land to sustain their herds. That’s not entirely a “private property” situation.

      Personally, given the ecological crises faced by other species as a result of our exploitation, I identify with the goals of the Refuge. I don’t know whether ongoing ranching interfered with the restoration program. If the cattle or vehicles were destroying reestablished habitat, I can see some frustration setting in. The authors at the National Review don’t present any documentation provided by the BLM regarding the interaction between ranching and the ecosystem recovery, and whether and how they attempted to coordinate with the Hammonds to reduce those impacts.

      Obviously the early manipulation of the water levels would have affected those closest to the lakes, which is also the land most critical to restoration of water fowl habitat that was the intention of the original Refuge, and probably the goal of additional land purchases. Again, whether those land holders were engaged in practices that caused damage to water reeds and whether they attempted to mitigate them is another issue. Ranching itself might produce high levels of nutrients from runoff that might affect the stability of the ecosystem.

      Obviously this situation has gone on for forty years, and so over the years the possible damages to the restoration program may have mounted into tens of millions of dollars, and the Refuge managers may have found themselves unable to progress in the restoration program due to setbacks related to ranching. Again, their side of the history is not presented in the National Review, and for legal reasons may not be available to the public, so this is all supposition on my part.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s