Mad Prophet's Sanctuary

THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz

Are we really free to assert our rights?

In early 1943, when the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto finally learned where the trains were going and decided to fight back, did they go to their oppressors and say "Remember a few years back, when we obeyed the law and turned in our firearms? Well, we've changed our minds. We'd rather die fighting, now, than go like sheep to the death camps. So, please, can we have our weapons back?"

Of course not. It doesn't work that way. If you want your grandchildren to have the means to successfully resist foreign invasion or domestic tyranny, you must exercise our firearms rights today -- keeping up the riflery skills only you can pass down to them (you thought they still had a shooting coach down at the high school?) along with the hardware itself. Once you've allowed such a right to evaporate through disuse, you can't"ask for it back."

Folks back East imagine there couldn't be a better place to live -- when it comes to shooting -- than the desert West. After all, drive half an hour from almost any point in Las Vegas and you can be away in the naked desert.

But that's not the way Metro and the Clark County Commission look at things. In recent years, more and more of the Las Vegas Valley has been progressively ruled off limits to shooting. In the past year alone the wash at the north end of Jones (an area where I was first taken shooting by a county enforcement official) has been posted off limits.

It was also about a year ago that I was barred from a remote box canyon off Lee Canyon Road -- a place that had been used for target shooting so long that the rusted cases of the spent Russian cartridges crunched underfoot -- by a BLM ranger in a truck so big I could only have climbed into the cab with the aid of a stepladder. The officer informed me that target shooting at this isolated locale is now banned (though hunting is still legal -- go figure) because it now lies within the expanded boundaries of the "Red Rock Conservation Area" -- 20 miles and two highways north of anywhere a tourist ever went to gaze at the Red Rocks.

So, when I and a friend (a churchgoer and Boy Scout leader) decided to go target shooting last weekend, the bulk of our first conversation was devoted simply to figuring out a place that was safe, still legal, and unlikely to produce any unpleasant confrontation with the Boys in Beige.

(No, there are no outdoor ranges generally open to the public here, despite widespread reports to the contrary. I tried to join that Desert Sportsman's outfit a couple of years back, but they sent back my money when I refused to join the NRA, America's largest gun control organization.)

We finally decided to leave the Vegas Valley entirely, crossing to the other side of Mount Potosi at Mountain Spring, and driving a ways out the Sandy Valley Road -- itself a dirt thoroughfare -- before turning off to an old dump where we could shoot away from the road, into a hillside, miles from any occupied building.

We spent an hour or two, we 50-ish white guys, testing our pistols and attempting to sight in a French rifle I've nicknamed Pat Buchanan, it shoots so far to the right.

Finally, the sun sinking low, we packed to leave. At which point who should drive up but a Metro cop in a white van, shining his spotlight in our eyes despite the fact it was still daylight.

"I don't have any problem with you fellas target shooting out here, but I just have to make sure nothing else is going on," the officer stated. "Mind if I look in your car?"

"Actually, no, I do not consent to any search of my car," I replied, politely but firmly.

Now the officer became visibly irritated. "I don't need your permission to search your vehicle if you're out here shooting on BLM land," the deputy said as he patted us down -- an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment which would surely come as a surprise to many members of the current U.S. Supreme Court.

The deputy then made a point of approaching my car and peering in the open passenger-side door.

"So, you've got something in here you don't want me to see, like a fully automatic weapon," the officer said. (No, we didn't.)

Growing bolder now that he was between us and our vehicle, the officer then proceeded to lecture me that "I don't need any wise-ass answers when I'm out here," referring to my calm statement that I would not waive the right which protects all Americans against warrantless searches.

Is this now official Metro police policy? That an officer "doesn't need your permission" to search without a warrant, when he has seen no indication of a proximate crime? That politely stating "I do not consent to any search" constitutes a "wise-ass answer"? That refusing consent for a search is grounds for an officer to conclude you must be hiding illegal contraband -- even though the courts have specifically ruled that such a refusal does not constitute probable cause to presume any crime?

Is this, perhaps, what happened when Metro Officer Bruce Gentner stopped unarmed pedestrian John Perrin, 32, late in the evening of April 12, and demanded that Mr. Perrin drop his basketball and raise his hands? Did Mr. Perrin, perhaps, give the "wise-ass answer" that he was not going to waive the rights that protected him from a warrantless search? Is that why Officer Gentner found it necessary to empty his 14-round magazine at the unarmed pedestrian, killing him with six hits, several in the buttocks?

In Austin, Texas, Colorado City attorney Pat Barber was charged with violating the Texas Highway Beautification Act this spring when he put up an 8-by-16-foot billboard urging motorists to "just say no" to police vehicle searches.

Barber said he erected the sign -- with a phone number to access information about the constitutional right to resist warrantless searches -- "in response to the unprecedented numbers of interstate travelers being pressured into searches of their vehicles by state police officers."

Since numerous other non-compliant signs are never cited, attorney Barber thinks he knows the real reason authorities don't like his. And Judge Suzanne Covington of Austin apparently agrees, having ruled Barber is likely to win his case on grounds the statute "is an unconstitutional infringement of his rights of free speech."

There seem to be two Americas developing, today. There's the make-believe America imagined by our ivory-tower judges, where we still have at least some of the constitutional rights guaranteed by the founders; where the courts instruct us we have a right not to consent to warrantless searches, a right to turn and walk away rather than answer police questions (unless we've been formally placed under arrest); where we don't even have to sit and wait in our cars under the threat that "we'll send for the sniffer dogs if you don't consent" -- that we're in fact free to tell the officer we'll hang around only as long as it should take him to write up the average traffic ticket, at which point we're free to drive away (and he can sit there and wait for his damned dogs as long as he likes.)

But does that world described by our courts still match the real world, as supervised by our real police? Will Metro's officers publicly acknowledge all these rights? Or do we now stand a good chance of being shot dead (or strangled in our homes, like the late Charles Bush) for giving "wise-ass answers," should we assert them?

Some of us would like to know.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; through the book's web site, or by dialing 1-800-244-2224.

Vin Suprynowicz,

"The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it." -- John Hay, 1872

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken