Yesterday in class, while discussing the Bundy Ranch standoff, I posed a question I routinely ask: “Why do people obey the law.” Invariably, someone says, “If you don’t, you get arrested.” Fair enough I reply. What happens if two people disobey the law. Three people. Twenty people. One hundred people. One thousand people. One million people. And they ignore the law not out of a sense of lawlessness, but because they think the law is unjust, or unconstitutional. Are the police going to arrest each and every one of them? That was, in part, the conflict in Nevada. It was impossible for the BLM to enforce the law, as there were 1,000 people, all heavily armed, openly flouting federal law. But such massive resistance can’t happen anywhere else, right?
Think again. New York, in the wake of Newtown, passed the SAFE Act, which required registration of what the Empire State called “Assault weapons” (those aren’t really assault weapons, but that’s an argument for another time). The deadline to register was April 15. And, it is estimated that over 1 million New Yorkers are flouting the law. Connecticut hasn’t even bothered to enforce their own law. About 300,000 have refused. So now what? Do the police go door to door searching for weapons?
For now, gun rights experts say, the outcome in New York is uncertain. Will the state take the initiative to seize unregistered weapons? If it doesn’t, will the new gun controls be exposed as toothless, even meaningless?
“The line in the sand has been drawn, and if Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to send state police out on house-to-house searches and put hundreds of thousands of people in prison, they can do that,” says Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver.
Confronting the thousand militia men in the Nevada desert poses similar challenges to confronting one million armed New Yorkers. This is when stuff gets real. When millions of Americans oppose an unjust law that they think violates the Constitution and the Second Amendment, it becomes very, very tough for the law to proceed.