Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oklahoma legislators channel their inner Somali warlord

There’s tone-deaf, and then there’s the Oklahoma state legislature.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City – perpetrated by anti-government domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh in which 168 people died – members of the Oklahoma legislature are discussing the formation of a “volunteer militia” to “defend” the state against what they view as “unwarranted” intrusions from the federal government.

Remember, McVeigh believed that the federal government was an enemy force responsible for killing Americans in Waco and Ruby Ridge. He believed that deadly force – including the bombing of a federal building – was necessary to resist the federal government’s “unwarranted” intrusions. So, really, what better way to commemorate McVeigh’s victims than to organize a group McVeigh would stand in line to join?

Think about it for just a moment. State senators think it would be a good idea to create a volunteer militia – a group of armed citizens who enforce the rules as they think they should be enforced. And, at least one thinks that it would be legal.

“The Second Amendment deals directly with the right of an individual to keep and bear arms to protect themselves from an overreaching federal government,” said Randy Brogden, a Republican state senator and (naturally) candidate for governor.

Um, actually, not so much. There are arguments to be made as to whether the Second Amendment’s intent was to protect the right to bear arms for hunting and recreation, or to repel foreign invasion. There is no argument, historically, that the purpose of the amendment was to keep the federal government in check.

Besides, Oklahoma (along with 49 other states) already has a state militia. It’s called the National Guard. At the time the Second Amendment was written, there was no such organization. Heck, there wasn’t even supposed to be a standing army. Times and laws have changed to make such a “minuteman” style of army both unnecessary and unwise.

Now, in fairness, recently the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, which as taken any meaning out of the whole “well-regulated Militia” part of the Second Amendment. But this isn’t an issue about whether individuals can possess firearms.

If the argument for an armed force protecting a state from an “overreaching federal government” sounds familiar, it should. In 1957, the governor of the state of Arkansas ordered the National Guard (the state militia, remember) to prevent black students from attending a previously-all-white high school. Arkansas’ governor at the time, Orval Faubus, believed the Supreme Court’s decision requiring schools to be desegregated was an “overreaching federal government” intruding upon the rights of the state of Arkansas. In 1962, then-governor George Wallace attempted to use the Alabama National Guard to prevent the integration of the University of Alabama. Wallace believed that the federal court’s decision that the state could not prevent blacks from attending the school was the act of an “overreaching federal government” intruding upon the rights of the state of Alabama.

And now, because in 2014 people will face a tax penalty if they don’t purchase health insurance, Oklahoma state legislators want to mobilize private armies with the blessing of the Oklahoma legislature. I thought private armies were what Somali warlords used to help maintain control of their territories, not what Americans used in political disagreements.

But let’s think this through. We’re talking about volunteer armies that would be somehow deputized by the state legislature based on a particular political belief. Would everyone get to do that?

On “The Daily Show,” comedian Wyatt Cenac played a supporter of health care reform and was asked his response to the violent and separatist language used by health care opponents. He said “bring it on, I mean, we’ve got guns too.”

Apparently no one told the Oklahoma legislature that he was kidding.

No comments: