Cumberland Times-News

Editorials

February 24, 2013

If we must err, let it be on the side of liberty

Based on current research, gun ownership in colonial America included up to 73 percent of all households. Some gun ownership opponents have misrepresented this issue.

In a 2000 book, Michael Bellesiles, formerly of Emory University, suggested much lower gun ownership in colonial America. His book was repudiated as just shy of fraud by Emory University itself.

Seeking to limit the ability to rebel, in the period immediately leading up to our Revolution, the British attempted to confiscate gunpowder, seize existing weapons, and ban the import of arms and ammunition to the colonies. A parallel to today perhaps?

Would there have even been an American Revolution without a high rate of gun ownership? The common sense answer is “no.”

Our forefathers, knowing that government can overreach to the point of tyranny, recognized not only a right of citizens to protect themselves individually, but a collective right of protection from an oppressive government, should it arise; the type of government that seeks to control more and more of our lives and diminish our liberties and freedom. Thus, we have the Second Amendment.

Some observers suggest, and not facetiously, that since muskets were the common firearm in the late 1700s, based on the Second Amendment, Americans should only be allowed to own muskets.

By this reasoning then, the First Amendment which guarantees the rights of free speech, a free press, and of peaceable assembly should only protect personal and group interactions in a physical location, newspapers, magazines, written letters, and other printed materials.

The Internet, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, television, radio, and other forms of communication that did not exist over 200 years ago would not be protected.

The Fourth Amendment, which guarantees that citizens should “…be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects…” would then seem to apply solely to physical items, but not phone conversations, emails, tweets, and the like.

This is not an argument for the malleability of the principles of the Constitution. Principles are fundamental tenets, but the application of those principles will change over time.

For instance, our ancestors’ muskets were equivalent to the weapons used by British soldiers.

Should Americans today then be allowed to own weapons equal to those of our soldiers? Or should citizens at least be allowed to own a firearm that is similar?

These are not easy questions, but if we are to err, we should err on the side of the primacy of individual liberty.

The issue of individual liberty only exacerbates the complexity of this issue. There are two common denominators in these recent mass shootings: firearms and individuals with apparently severe mental problems.

In the name of liberty, on Feb. 5, 1963, President Kennedy addressed Congress on the issue of mental illness and began the deinstitutionalization of over 350,000 citizens.

The goal of successful integration into society for many of these individuals was never realized as sufficient resources were either never provided or were not used for the intended purpose. E. Fuller Torrey wrote an interesting piece on this recently.

Perhaps there is even a third commonality in these recent shootings in that in most all of the cases there was no citizen present with the weaponry or ability to stop the perpetrator.

This is a complex and emotionally difficult subject. This writer believes that to pretend otherwise is to choose not to think. It is also this writer’s belief that if we err on any issue, we should err on the side of liberty and freedom or we take one more step on the road to tyranny.

There are plenty of laws; they just need to be enforced.

Patrick Brady

Cumberland

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