Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Freedom Demands Responsibility

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. --John Locke

John Locke was a key component in the education of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Locke’s ideologies influenced The Declaration of Independence, arguing for the sacred privilege of men to revolt if the Executive or Supreme Power infringed upon their rights as men to preserve life and liberty. Locke also argued for the governmental supremacy of the legislative branches of government, a foundational component of the new government that resulted from a revolution to separate from British rule..

In the words cited as introduction to this post, Locke declares that the purpose of law is to preserve and enlarge freedom because law guarantees freedom. Locke’s contention is that men enter into governmental agreements in order to preserve their lives. Government exists to protect property and life, and that is exactly what many of our laws accomplish.

Traffic laws, for example, exist to insure that qualified drivers have access to vehicles upon roads. Furthermore, citizens agree to hold themselves to a wide array of restrictions that serve the greater good of preserving life. Solid lines divide highways, letting drivers know which space to use and when they may invade the space dedicated to other drivers. Traffic signals direct the flow of traffic and facilitate sharing the roadways safely. None of us complains about these impediments to our freedom simply because these impediments secure our ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Warning Sign on Mexico Highway: Beware of the Armadillo (Photo by Connye Griffin, 2010)

Similarly, seat belt restrictions protect our freedom to live whole and long. Data proved that seat belts save lives. Without them and similar safety devices, chests turned concave against steering wheels in high-speed crashes or entire bodies were flung into the air like blankets in high winds, but unlike fabric, those bodies fell against hard ground, maimed, their animation ended.

This logic following from consumer and citizen protection has extended to many products, machines, and human interactions. We have even censored our First Amendment privileges if our words are an abuse of our freedom. If one maliciously and cruelly inspires panic, resulting in a loss of life or harm, then the words themselves become criminal.

Except when the Second Amendment is the topic. Gun-lovers, National Rifle Association members, and under-informed citizens object loudly to restrictions. Some even threaten revolution to protect their freedom to be part of a “well-regulated militia.”

Iron Link Chain Against Weathered Wood (Photo by Al Griffin, 2013)

But recent legislation has not endangered the right to keep and bear arms as long as one is not mentally incapacitated and willing to submit to a background check in all sales venues, including gun shows and private homes. These restrictions were proposed in order to protect the most vulnerable among us: unarmed citizens; i.e., students in libraries or classrooms, movie-goers, passersby, and children walking to and from schools. Like seat belts and solid lines, the restrictions merely exist to preserve the ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Counter-arguments hold that we cannot preserve every life so why should we bother? Why tamper with the Second Amendment? But traffic laws do not save every life, and we are proud to uphold them because we know that more will surely die on a completely unregulated roadway. We agree to show proof of citizenship and identity to board planes even though a few madmen slip through our restrictions and threaten to end us. We are also happy to give personal information in order to use a credit card, buy a home, and insure our property. Why then is there such a hue and cry about guns?

Because it is a topic that quickly and easily inflames some and divides loyalties. I contend that the first loyalty should be to the principle for which government exists: the preservation and enlargement of freedom, including the freedom due students, movie-goers, and passersby--the freedom of ordinary citizens to go about their lives reasonably secure in the knowledge that government works to secure the peace among them.

Be a responsible citizen. Uphold the principle of government. Agree to certain, limited restrictions that grant greater freedoms.