Wyoming Draws Freedom Lovers
by Ari Armstrong, June 28, 2007
No doubt some Colorado leftists would like nothing better than for people like me to pack up their bags and move to Wyoming. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if a few leftists moved to California. But we'll see how loudly these leftists, who currently control politics in Colorado through the Democratic Party, crow if their tax base actually starts to move out because of increasingly severe economic controls.
In recent years, a coalition of leftists and control-freak Republicans have given us higher net taxes, more subsidized transportation, more spending on government-run education, "renewable" energy mandates, smoking bans, more severe wage controls, and on and on. Now the bipartisan Commission to Socialize Medicine (two members of which praised a "single payer" plan as "bold" and "refreshing") is working to increase government control of medicine. How much more will advocates of liberty put up with? Speaking for myself, the answer is "not much."
The unique value of living in the Interior West is the "live and let live" attitude. If Colorado continues to move in the direction of "live the way you're told," those who don't want politicians and bureaucrats to run their lives will increasingly look to parts of the Interior West with less-corrupted souls. Such as Wyoming.
From June 22-24, around 130 people traveled to Guernsey, Wyoming, to socialize, shoot guns, and discuss plans for moving into the state. Sponsored by Free State Wyoming (FSW), the event drew some of those interested in moving to the state as part of a semi-organized plan. People traveled from Oregon, New York, Texas, and states in between to pitch a tent and enjoy the fresh air and the company.
Boston T. Party, who wrote a novel about Wyoming, puttered around on his dirt bike to keep tabs on things. I spoke with him twice and spliced together our discussions as an mp3 file. On Saturday evening (June 23), Boston shared some of his thoughts with the participants. I created a second, edited mp3 file of some of his comments. Note that I've cut out the comments of other people, which drops some of the context that prompted some of Boston's remarks.
I'd never spent much time in Cheyenne, so I spent most of Thursday, June 21, walking around there. It's a pretty place. Its downtown area boasts antique shops, a pleasant coffee shop, a smoothy shop, several restaurants, and, just down the street, the state capitol. I was told that a "modern" mall sits a bit north of downtown, but I didn't visit it. Shown in the photo is the Nagle Warren Mansion of 1888, now a bed and breakfast. If you think it looks cool on the outside, wait till you see the inside -- spectacular. (I didn't stay there; I spent the night on the couch of an Objectivist friend.)
I couldn't pass through Cheyenne without stopping at Phoenix Books & Music, located at 1612 Capitol Avenue. (I happen to know the owners through Front Range Objectivism.) It's a very nice used book store, especially considering the size of the town. I managed to escape with only seven books in my bag.
Defensive Firearms Clinic
I hit the road early (for me, very early) the next morning to make it into Guernsey in time for Boston's Defensive Firearms Clinic. It was a day-long class covering the basics of handguns. While the class materials discouraged the use of revolvers in favor of semiautomatics, Dede Laugesen performed well with her little five-shot revolver. Dede and her husband Wayne (of Boulder Weekly fame) are shown in the photo.
I learned several things from the class. First, it's a bit harder to clear a particular sort of malfunction than I had realized. If the brass from the previous round gets stuck in the chamber and the gun attempts to chamber a new round, the magazine also gets stuck, in which state the gun is impossible to rack clear. The solution is to lock back the slide, then drop the magazine, then rack the gun clear of the brass. Then you tap the magazine back in, chamber a new round, and you're ready to go.
Second, equipment matters. When we were shooting hinged steel targets, the .45s regularly dropped the targets quicker than my 9 mm did. There is a real difference in power. Nevertheless, my Glock and my gear performed flawlessly. Regardless of caliber, the most important thing is to have gear that works. "A hit with a .22 is better than ten misses [or a malfunction] with a .45," my dad says. Also, I purchased a Wilderness belt on Boston's recommendation, and it really is a fine belt for carrying a handgun.
Third, it's a lot harder to hit a target under pressure. I already knew this from previous training, but Boston's course offered a good reminder. If I get stressed and in a hurry, some of my subsequent shots lose accuracy. I need to work on that. If you want to learn how to use a handgun defensively, it's not enough just to leisurely shoot at targets. You have to add an element of stress, including practice at handling various problems, for realism.
On Friday evening (June 22), Jalan Crossland performed with his band. My assumption was that the band would be the equivalent of a local cover band. Was I wrong! Jalan is a talented picker, singer, and songwriter. His mates are similarly skilled. (Several of Jalan's songs are available at Myspace.) While I don't often listen to country and bluegrass, I enjoyed the performance. Apparently the band has attracted a following in Fort Collins as well as in Wyoming. (The band was hired to perform and doesn't necessarily share the views of FSW.)
The Rifle Course
Mark and Beverly Spungin (shown in the photo) organized the rifle shoots on Saturday and Sunday (June 23-24). I was planning to sit in and watch. But one fellow generously offered to lend me his M1 Garand. So I spent Saturday morning shooting the challenging and strenuous course.
Here's how the course works. A berm of earth spans the field at 100 yards (or possibly meters), 200 yards, and 300 yards. At the target end, a larger berm of earth rolls up to a concrete wall. Behind this wall sit target stands. While half the group shoots, the other half runs the targets. The operators of the targets are able to raise and lower targets and flip them from edge to face. The operators can also carry moving targets above their heads. I'd never seen a course like this -- very exciting.
We started at the 100-yard line to sight in our rifles. This was my crash-course for the M1 Garand. Then we sighted in at 200 and 300 yards, then began the formal course, during which we moved back to the 100-yard line, firing at various stages. One of the assistants patiently helped to guide me through the course. My score wasn't great. But, given that it's the first time I'd fired the Garand or shot on such a course, I wasn't overly displeased.
Open sights at 300 yards do not make for easy shooting. The front sight appears about as wide as the target itself (though slimmer sights are available). Plus, I was a little nervous and a little worn out from the heat. Nevertheless, I did hit the center ring (once) from the 300-yard line. The experience made me think that a scope might be the way to go -- preferably one that also allows use of the open sights.
A note on the M1 Garand. This rifle uses clips loaded from the top, not magazines, of eight rounds each. It "pings" when ejecting a used clip, just like I'd heard. The downside to the Garand is that, relative to magazines, the clips are harder to unload when partially empty. Magazines can be removed and reloaded more easily (or so it seemed to me based on my limited experience). On the other hand, there's no magazine sticking down beneath the Garand to mess with when shooting prone. Regardless, the rifle performed perfectly (better than its user), and it was a joy to shoot. (I heard about, but managed to avoid, "Garand thumb.")
Here's what Boston's Gun Bible says about the rifle (pages 11/16-11/17): "The more I study the mechanical ingenuity of the M1, such as the trigger group, rear sight, and feeding mechanism, the more in awe I become. Moreover, the rifle simply has a 'presence' about it. It's solid, competent -- and oh, so American."
It was my privilege to shoot one, and my debt to its owner.
Dealing with the Heat
Wow, it was hot -- nearly 100 degrees on Saturday. I didn't deal with it very well. The previous weekend, during the first real heat wave in Colorado, I also suffered from (what I think is properly diagnosed as) heat exhaustion after spending parts of two days out in the heat. That was unnerving.
So in Wyoming I made sure to keep drinking water and Gatorade. I didn't feel as bad as I had the previous week, but by Saturday afternoon I wasn't feeling good enough to keep shooting. Instead I took a cool shower and soaked my clothes.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or nutritionist, nor am I trained in any sort of medicine. My comments about dealing with the heat are not intended as advice to any reader. Every reader should consult with a qualified expert regarding the proper way to handle hot weather and hydration.
I think several things contributed to my problems with handling the heat. I had a sore throat for a couple of days before the Wyoming event, so I may have also been suffering a little from some sort of infection. I hadn't really been used to exercising in the heat; generally I go on walks in the evening, and it's still early in the season. Because I had sprained my ankle a few weeks before, I had not been keeping up on my exercise. Saturday was my third straight day under the hot sun. And I'm not sure I had the best hydration plan.
A recent article originally from the Los Angeles Times offers some notes on the subject. Anna Gosline and Jeannine Stein write:
Overheating, the mild form, causes fatigue and dizziness... As internal temperatures rise above 100 degrees, athletes may experience cramps, headaches, nausea and vomiting. By the time core temperatures reach 104, the body rebels from hyperthermia...
I'm not sure about the status of my electrolytes, or whether that was a problem. It might be possible to drink too much water relative to electrolyte replacement. Gatorade contains forms of both salt and potassium. I ran across a formula for a homemade rehydration drink that contains sugar, salt, and baking soda (which is also high in sodium).
One person (the same one who lent me the Garand) said that, after a hot day's work, he drinks V8 juice, which contains both sodium and potassium. He said he also likes to eat a banana, a good source of potassium. This gave me the idea of drying bananas for a more-portable snack. (I use an Excalibur dehydrator. I thought soaking the banana slices in orange juice before drying might offer a nicer flavor; I'll try that out.)
Also, Boston recommended a a backpack with a water bladder and tube for easy and constant access to water. Because I had a large jug, I was drinking larger amounts of water less often.
I decided that suffering from the heat is nothing to get macho about. If I'm feeling the effects of the heat, my plan is to find a way to cool off pronto.
An Armed Society is a Polite Society
Her story is compelling. She says that she abstains from offering lectures to skeptics. She figures that's no way to actually persuade somebody. Instead, she hands out a card that explains why she carries a gun. Then, if the recipient is interested in a pleasant chat, she will oblige.
We've all heard the expression, "An armed society is a polite society." The apparently obvious meaning of that expression is that fewer people will try to commit crimes when their intended victims are armed. But Mama Liberty taught me the true meaning of the expression.
Carrying a gun (responsibly) makes its owner more polite.
She can no longer indulge her temper, she told me. Carrying a gun has changed the way that she interacts with other people. The same thing happens with experts in martial arts. Who's more likely to walk away from a fight: some macho gangster, or someone with the discipline and self-control to learn martial arts? Learning to handle and carry a gun responsibly requires a similar discipline. In addition, misuse of a gun, as well as misuse of martial-arts training, can result in hefty criminal sentences.
Obviously, in a culture of violence (such as the gang culture in the U.S.), people carry and use all sorts of weapons irresponsibly and criminally. But in a culture that respects individual rights -- which is the sort of culture for which Mama Liberty is fighting -- gun carriers absolutely must practice self-control at all times. In such a culture, those few who misuse guns or other tools are quickly shunned or jailed or worse, depending on the offense. Carrying a gun is a serious business that requires serious preparation, planning, and self-monitoring.
I have heard the claim that the mere presence of a gun is inherently intimidating. That claim is complete nonsense. Unless you make a serious effort to inflict severe bodily harm on Mama Liberty or her loved ones, you have nothing to fear from her or from other rights-respecting individuals who carry a gun. Such people understand the difference between an argument and a life-threatening attack. If "hoplophobes" (as Mama Liberty called them) choose to obscure the distinction, then that's their prejudice. An armed society is a polite society.
A Few Reservations
My experience with the people involved with Free State Wyoming suggests that all of them would make first-rate neighbors. They'd offer a friendly word or a helping hand and otherwise mind their own business. However, I do have a few minor criticisms of the FSW effort.
First is more of a suggestion. All of the shooting events during the weekend were aimed at those bringing some skills with firearms with them. That's fine for the FSW group, but what about others? I'd like to see something like a "gun orientation class." People could show up without a gun and without any previous experience with guns. The instructors would bring an assortment of guns and would make the class as welcoming and stress-free as possible. The point would be not for participants to become competent shooters that day, but merely to see what firearms are all about. "This is a .22 revolver. Here's how it works." Then everybody in the class gets to fire off a couple of rounds while closely monitored. "This is a semiautomatic .45. This is a 12-gauge shotgun. This is a .308 bolt-action rifle." Etc. "Here's what you have to do after this class to become competent with any of these firearms."
Now for my three concerns. First, I worry that those involved with FSW are not making enough of an effort to break down certain stereotypes of gun owners. FSW should be welcoming toward freedom-loving blacks, Hispanics, atheists, homosexuals, and other minorities. Is it? I heard some talk against illegal immigration. Well, everybody wants secure boarders and laws that allow for legal and fair immigration. But I worry that talk against illegal immigrants can cross the line to prejudice against Hispanics. Members of FSW are particularly interested in protecting their right to keep and bear arms, and that's great. But they also need to vocally support the less-popular rights to criticize religion, have sex with consenting adults of the same gender, etc.
Second, I worry that some people in the broader freedom movement tend to romanticize the "coming collapse." I'll call this the "Mad Max syndrome." Now, I do believe that there are some frightening trends in our country that, if unchecked, will tend toward disaster. However, I also believe in free will and the power of ideas. People in this country can respond to crisis either by turning to statism or by rediscovering liberty. Neither course is inevitable. In the meantime, it does no good to dwell upon (or wish for) potential social chaos. (Reasonable preparation for potential emergencies, yes.) A needlessly pessimistic view can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, insofar as it discourages the sorts of actions that might avert disaster.
Finally, I loved hearing about an idea for "Sovereigns of the High Frontier," presumably adapted from the title of one of Victor Koman's books. But will this be a serious effort to develop a space industry in Wyoming? Or will it be closer to a Star Trek fan club? It seems that some people (not necessarily anyone involved with FSW) get so wrapped up in their schemes of imagination that they forget about achieving liberty in the real world. I hope that doesn't happen to FSW. (FSW is inherently a practical plan of action, which should help to guard against the problem.)
So those are my concerns, which I do not wish to overstate. In general, I found the FSW event, and the people involved with it, to be delightful. Whether or not I ever end up in Wyoming, I wish the the people who live there the ripest fruits of liberty.