For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others

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“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~Nelson Mandela

I have been reflecting on the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – the right of the people to keep and bear arms. The right to own weapons is a fundamental part of our collective history as Americans. I believe, as the Minutemen demonstrated in Concord, MA, to the British, that tyranny against an armed people does not end well for an oppressivegovernment. In my travels, I have witnessed the oppression some governments can impose on a people. I am grateful to the framers of our Constitution for seeing the wisdom of a free people having the right to bear arms and adopting the Second Amendment, as part of the Bill of Rights,on Dec. 15, 1791.

Of course in the 18th century, our leaders had no concept of assault weapons capable of firing hundreds of armor-piercing rounds in a minute and magazines that can hold 10, 30 or even 100 rounds that can be fired and then replaced in seconds with a new high-capacity magazine. In 1791, the height of weapons development was a muzzle-loaded, single shot flintlock with rudimentary rifling. A trained soldier of the time could load and fire three aimed shots a minute if he was undisturbed during the loading and firing process. Today, an individual with little training can employ an assault rifle with high-capacity magazines and saturate a large space with high-velocity bullets with no more understanding of the weapon than how to pull a trigger or change a magazine.

Our leaders in 1791 could not have conceived of the power for mayhem that the modern weapons of today could produce, particularly in the hands of a single, mentally unstable individual. Yes, there were deranged individuals in 1791, but just how much damage could one do in that era with a weapon that takes 20 seconds to load and fire?

I have heard the arguments supporting ownership of assault type weapons, from hunting to home defense. I hunt deer with a muzzle-loader and iron sights and focus on the sport of one shot and one kill. I would suggest that something is very wrong with your aim if you require the capability to fire 100 rounds a minute with a high-capacity magazine, not to mention the embarrassment of dragging home a bullet-riddled deer. The need for these weapons in home defense does not make much sense, either, unless you live in a neighborhood that requires a 24-hour guard due to constant attack. Fortunately, those conditions do not exist in this country.

I have also digested the argument that this is just one more attack on my personal freedom by our government. I have always believed that living in a free society requires a certain amount of personal responsibility, by each individual, to ensure that their exercise of freedom does not impinge on the freedoms of others in that same society. Because I cannot depend on every individual to be responsible, I rely on the laws of our society to protect my personal freedom from the antisocial actions of others.

Perhaps it is one of the most ironic twists of history that our great society, which was created on the principle idea of personal freedom, was still built on the backs of slaves. Absolute individual freedom is inconsistent with a free society. We have a term for such a condition: It iscalled “anarchy.”

Much of modern society is regulated to ensure that an individual’s lack of personal responsibility does not impinge on the freedoms of the larger society. Automobile regulations are an excellent example of individual freedoms being limited to preserve social freedoms. Laws prevent me from driving any automobile I choose on public streets, because my vehicle must meet certain standards of safety and environmental compliance that are in the best interests of the larger society. I also must have a license that confirms I have met a minimum standard for safe vehicle operation, and I must maintain auto insurance in case I have an accident, to ensure any individual I might harm is compensated.

As a father of three teenage daughters, I am tremendously grateful for these governmental limits on my “freedom” to operate a vehicle. I use these limitations as tools as I introduce my daughters to the dangerous world of driving. It is conceivably the most dangerous freedom to which they will ever be exposed.

Why would we allow our personal freedom to be limited on something so fundamentally “American” as driving in our modern society, yet shrink from regulation of assault weapons that are no less dangerous to the freedom of society as a whole? How many more Sandy Hook massacres of children and New York firefighter shootings does it take to recognize that American society’s freedom is being impinged upon by the irresponsible acts of the assault rifle-armed individual? This is a public-health issue as important as drunken driving, second-hand smoke or leaving a fire unattended in Colorado. I have a right to drive or smoke or build a fire, but I must exercise these freedoms in a manner that does not violate the freedoms of my neighbor. I have no illusions that responsible gun regulation, such as an assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban, will end gun violence any more then drunken driving laws have ended drunken driving, although they have reduced the incidence of drunken driving deaths.

It is time that we apply the same regulatory constraints on the right to bear arms that we accept without complaint on so many other freedoms in our society. It is time for the Second Amendment to be adjusted for the realities of living free in the 21st century.

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