L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 94, October 16, 2000
Who Is Carl Drega?
He Said, 'If You Come On My Land, I'll Kill You'
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
For years, Garry Watson, 49, of little Bunker, Mo., (population 390) had been squabbling with town officials over the sewage line easement which ran across his property to the adjoining, town-operated sewage lagoon.
Residents say officials grew dissatisfied with their existing easement, and announced they were going to excavate a new sewer line across the landowner's property. Capt. Chris Ricks of the Missouri Highway Patrol reports Watson's wife, Linda, was served with "easement right-of-way papers" on Sept. 6. She gave the papers to Watson when he got home at 5 a.m. the next morning from his job at a car battery recycling plant northeast of Bunker. Watson reportedly went to bed for a short time, but arose about 7 a.m. when the city work crew arrived.
"He told them 'If you come on my land, I'll kill you,' " Bunker resident Gregg Tivnan told me last week. "Then the three city workers showed up with a backhoe, plus a police officer. They'd sent along a cop in a cop car to guard the workers, because they were afraid there might be trouble. Watson had gone inside for a little while, but then he came out and pulled his SKS (semi-automatic rifle) out of his truck, steadied it against the truck, and he shot them."
Killed in the Sept. 7 incident, from a range of about 85 yards, were Rocky B. Gordon, 34, a city maintenance man, and David Thompson, 44, an alderman who supervised public works. City maintenance worker Delmar Eugene Dunn, 51, remained in serious but stable condition the following weekend. Bunker police Officer Steve Stoops, who drove away from the scene after being shot, was treated and released from a hospital for a bullet wound to his arm and a graze to the neck.
Watson thereupon kissed his wife goodbye, took his rifle, and disappeared into the woods, where his body was found two days later -- dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Following such incidents, the local papers are inevitably filled with well-meaning but mawkish doggerel about the townsfolk "pulling together" and attempting to "heal" following the "tragedy." There are endless expressions of frustration, pretending to ask how such an otherwise peaceful member of the community could "just snap like that."
In fact, the supposedly elusive explanation is right before our eyes.
"He was pushed," Clarence Rosemann -- manager of the local Bunker convenience store, who'd done some excavation work for Watson -- told the big-city reporters from St. Louis.
Another area resident, who didn't want to be identified, told the visiting newsmen, "Most people are understanding why Garry Watson was upset. They are wishing he didn't do it, but they are understanding why he did it."
You see, to most of the people who work in government and the media these days -- especially in our urban centers -- "private property" is a concept out of some dusty, 18th century history book. Oh, sure, "property owners" are allowed to live on their land, so long as they pay rent to the state in the form of "property taxes."
But an actual "right" to be let alone on our land to do whatever we please -- always providing we don't actually endanger the lives or health of our neighbors?
Heavens! If we allowed that, how would we enforce all our wonderful new "environmental protection" laws, or the "zoning codes," or the laws against growing hemp or tobacco or distilling whisky without a license, or any of the endless parade of other malum prohibitum decrees which have multiplied like swarms of flying ants in this nation over the past 87 years?
What does it mean to say we have any "rights" or "freedoms" at all, if we cannot peacefully enjoy that property which we buy with the fruits of our labors? In his 1985 book "Takings," University of Chicago Law Professor Richard Epstein wrote that, "Private property gives the right to exclude others without the need for any justification. Indeed, it is the ability to act at will and without need for justification within some domain which is the essence of freedom, be it of speech or of property."
"Unfortunately," replies James Bovard, author of the book Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen, "federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors are making private property much less private. ... Park Forest, Ill. in 1994 enacted an ordinance that authorizes warrantless searches of every single-family rental home by a city inspector or police officer, who are authorized to invade rental units 'at all reasonable times.' ... Federal Judge Joan Gottschall struck down the searches as unconstitutional in 1998, but her decision will have little or no effect on the numerous other localities that authorize similar invasions of privacy."
We are now involved in a war in this nation, a last-ditch struggle in which the other side contends only the king's men are allowed to use force or the threat of force to push their way in wherever they please, and that any peasant finally rendered so desperate as to employ the same kind of force routinely employed by our oppressors must surely be a "lone madman" who "snapped for no reason."
No, we should not and do not endorse or approve the individual choices of folks like Garry Watson. But we are still obliged to honor their memories and the personal courage it takes to fight and die for a principle, even as we lament both their desperate, misguided actions ... and the systematic erosion of our liberties which gave them rise.
"Just because one government agent has a piece of paper that's signed by another government agent, does that mean there's no more right to private property?" asks my friend Gregg Tivnan.
"If statists fear popular resistance," replies Jim Bovard, "perhaps government should violate fewer rights."