Are We Really Free to Assert Our Rights?
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
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
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
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
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
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 web site
or by dialing 1-800-244-2224.