Guns! Terrorism! This week has been a ______ Mad Lib.

Remember Mad Libs? Here is a topical one:

A small group of Americans, calling themselves ________________, took to publicly owned _____________ in protest. They declared they would not leave until their demands were met, specifically _______________________.

These are some options: “Occupy Wall Street,” parks, bank CEOs were arrested. “Black Lives Matter,” streets, police officers were indicted. “Citizens for Constitutional Freedoms,” park buildings, ranchers are freed.

Offended yet? After all, if the internet is to be believed, the latter group is full of terrorists; “YallQaeda” and “Vanilla ISIS” are two of the more clever terms.

Of course, the reality is that each of these groups used so-called “direct action” to advance a political message. None of them are terrorists. None of them used violence or the threat thereof to induce political action. If that changes, then they will become terrorists. But while the self-styled militia may carry weapons, as of today, they have specifically disavowed the initiation of violence and they have not harmed anyone.

The former two groups cannot say no one was harmed in their protests. Various “Occupy” encampments had rapes and sexual assaults reported in their midst, while private citizens had their businesses looted in Ferguson. But, since that violence was not conducted to further their political objectives, it cannot be called terrorism.

Nor did that violence make the movements’ legitimate grievances invalid. Today, they are making good points about the disparate media coverage. Yet their arguments are undermined by shouts of “terrorism.” Ironically, overbroad accusations of terrorism is exactly what led to the Oregon protest in the first place.

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Tuesday. Jim Urquhart | Reuters

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Tuesday. Jim Urquhart | Reuters

Maybe the Hammonds, the ranchers in question, are great people; maybe they aren’t. But a relatively small agricultural burn — even assuming it was lit to hide illegal hunting — does not constitute “terrorism” to a reasonable person.

That is really the crux of the problem. In Congress’ zeal to appear tough and “do something,” they pass overly broad laws lacking clarity, like the 1996 law under which the Hammonds were convicted in 2012 for federal arson. The petty tyranny of a faceless bureaucracy wields these laws with near impunity, leading to unjust punishments. That is why the original trial judge refused to levy the sentence; he thought it would be cruel and unusual.

That perceived injustice gave rise to the Oregon protest. And, in another ironic twist, unjust sentencing is one of the major objections of “Black Lives Matter.” Who would have guessed these two groups would make common cause?

So how do we solve it? Overall criminal justice reform — an area of agreement between the GOP and the president — would be a great start. Another solution is the establishment of clear, bright lines in the law, removing the vast swaths of discretion granted to agencies. When the law isn’t clear, problems often arise.

That is one of the problems with firearms laws: they include terms of art subject to interpretation, not bright lines. President Obama had an opportunity to propose a clear test to delineate between casual sales and business sales, but instead threw out untrue statements like “gun show loopholes” and “internet sales.” His actual “background check” order does little more than stir up grey area, likely leading to overbearing government action to be contested in courts. Watch for an elderly widow selling off her late husband’s firearms getting arrested by ATF. Think it can’t happen? Ask the kids who have lemonade stands shut down or the presently incarcerated ranchers-cum-terrorists.

Meanwhile, some of the pre-emptive objections of Republicans this past week were overdone. Obama’s proposals, it turns out, are fairly milquetoast. Some even have real merit, like increasing access to mental health services and ensuring state-level criminal convictions are added to the background check database. These are some policies those of us supportive of firearms rights have been calling for — credit the president for following suit.

And that is really the point. The Oregon protesters and Black Lives Matter folks have more in common than one would think, despite the heated rhetoric. President Obama has adopted some of the policy prescriptions put forth by Republicans; in those cases, it should be acknowledged. Contrary to popular belief, there are things we can agree on. Let’s put the charges of “terrorism” and “treason” aside. If we don’t, we’re going to be _______.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.