“A government of laws, and not of men”
I cannot help but write on the occasion of the armed men taking over BLM property in Oregon in protest of the sentence handed down to their fellow ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond. Today the Hammonds report back to federal prison to serve a sentence which these armed men in Oregon, and many others no doubt, believe is unfair. The sentence is five years for the lighting of fires on federal lands. I will not take your time here to explain the details that prompted the charge and the sentence. They are complicated and they are in dispute, but the key issue, which is not in dispute, is that these men were sentenced under the rule of law to serve these sentences.
I have, in my brief time as a lawyer and longer time as a student of the law, seen many sentences which seemed to not fit the crime. Decades for seemingly small thefts under the three-strikes-you’re-out law. Similar terms, sometimes life terms, for what seemed on their face to be small drug offenses if the “wrong” drug was involved. I remember a case here in Utah where a defendant was sentenced to multiple years for sticking a dollar bill in a vending machine with a string tied to it, then pulling it back out attempting to get both the dollar back and change as well. He did this multiple times, trying to trick the machine to give him change for the dollar and the dollar back. I don’t think he stole more than a few dollars, but it was his third offense.
The laws , as you know, are written by legislative bodies, elected by us, to protect our interests. If we disagree with the sentences imposed, we have means of redress. If we are the party involved, we may appeal the sentence. If we believe the sentences are wrong for not only that defendant but all like him, we can petition the Congress or state legislature to re-write the criminal code. These are the lawful and constitutional ways we seek redress in this country.
Because as John Adams said, we are “a government of laws, and not of men.” We do not take guns into buildings, whether they are occupied or not, remote or not, the government’s or not, and announce our intention to stay for years if necessary until we get our way. That is not the way we petition for redress of grievances. We appeal to the courts. We appeal to the Congress. We appeal to the government. We behave in the lawful and respectful manner that separates us from the governments we criticize in other parts of the world.
If you disagree with the way the federal government is managing land in Oregon or Utah or any other state, then you bring your case to the Congress and the president. If you are unsuccessful, you do not get to occupy federal property with guns until you get your way. That is the 4th grader mentality of stomping your feet and demanding you are right even after you’ve lost the day. “Not fair! Not fair! Not fair!”
We are a society of the people, by the people and for the people – all of the people – not just those who agree with you. That is why we agree to be governed by laws – for the people’s sake. The government is not above the people – it IS the people – made up of the people who are enforcing laws enacted by the people. We must stop seeing each other as the enemy. We must tap into our higher natures. We must remember that when we lose an argument, the judge or the jury or the government who decided against us is not necessarily evil or unconstitutional or even wrong just because they disagree with us.
When schools must be closed nearby to protect the children in case violence breaks out, that is a pretty good clue that the path you are pursuing is not what our founding fathers had in mind. Use your stronger weapon – which is not your gun – but your mind. Make a better argument. Win the day with your words in the right place and time. If you are using guns and not words, that feels like terrorism at its worst and bullying in its least offensive light.
I say to the Bundy brothers – go home to Cedar City and Arizona. To those who support them, allow your frustration to serve your political activism, but in a respectful way. This is the American way. Because we are a government of laws, and not of men.