Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Freedom.

“War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”

George Orwell, 1984

We approach the celebration of our Independence, and in a couple of weeks there will be fireworks, parades, family cookouts, and a vast amount of political speech about the courage of our founders, and the greatness of our nation.  How much of this will actually have a meaningful impact to the average man or woman living in this land?

Our independence was gained through the blood and sacrifice of a people who fought to form their own union, not beholding to a far distant King and his Parliament.  We were not a perfect people, but our founders knew enough to understand unlimited government enslaved its people, just like the institution that ultimately led us to our great Civil War.  Therefore, from the beginnings we sought a limited central power.  After the failure of the Confederation of States, the leaders of the many states sat together in debate and compromise to write a new Constitution to ensure the limits of power, and safeguards to the individual.

Those original ten safeguards have been built upon, or in some cases reduced, through the passage of time, or the conscious act of the nation.  For example, at one point the political will of the vocal minority led us to prohibit the distillation of spirits and brewing of malt through the passage of the 18th Amendment.  Of course this did not stop the demand for them, it just made it illegal.  The by-product of this decision was to create an underground industry to meet the demand.  Men like Al Capone and Joseph Kennedy made their fortunes though this enterprise.  Ultimately we repealed that decision with the passage of the 21st Amendment.

Also, in this new endeavor the politicians and judges have had to feel their way through the framework to find the best solutions to the checks and balances the founders built into our nation.  Every President has sought to expand his power, the Judges of the Supreme Court have exerted their rights and have from time to time stepped into a leadership role in attempting to engineer the society to fit the model they like, the Congress has fought with the other two branches to exert itself.  Of course there have been times when the Court and the Congress have willingly ceded power to the President, but always with consequence.

So here we are on this 23rd day of June in the year 2016 on the Gregorian calendar.  And my question is how much of our liberty are we willing to surrender to secure the illusion of safety?  This seems to be a recurring theme for me as it was pointed out I wrote a similar piece three years ago (Ben Franklin Had it Right).

Again, as in the past, we have had some calamitous event and everyone wants to do something to ensure it won’t happen again.  As much as we would like to live in a perfect and safe world that is an impossibility so maybe we should consider that as we debate what to do?  Alas we won’t.

On the one hand we have those who favor increasing controls of the guns proposing additional restrictions on the purchase of those weapons.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  We had a terrorist legally buy a rifle and a lot of ammunition and kill 49 people in Orlando.  If we had those additional restrictions this would not have happened.  As my Senator, Bill Nelson, wrote me. 

“Earlier today, I spoke with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota about the new bipartisan gun bill Sen. Susan Collins and I recently introduced to prevent anyone who is on the No-Fly List from buying a gun. To me, it’s common sense — if we don’t let someone on a plane because the FBI thinks they may have ties to terrorism, then we shouldn’t let that person buy a gun.

Another provision included in the bill is one I introduced last week to ensure that the FBI is notified if someone who was once on the terrorist watch list purchases a gun.

We’re not saying: don’t sell guns to someone just because they were investigated. But having a system in place that alerts the FBI if someone they once investigated is suddenly trying to purchase multiple assault weapons is just common sense.”

Call me a skeptic but I always worry when the phase “just common sense” is thrown around as a justification.

In opposition we have those who would like nothing to change at all, offering little in the way of options.

If the Court, the Congress, the President, and a significant number of individuals feel strongly we should not have guns for protection from others, or the state, then why are they taking halfway measures to address the problem?  Why isn’t the President calling for a Constitutional Amendment to repeal or rewrite to the Second Amendment?  This is a rhetorical question, for the answer is obvious.  There would be significant opposition, and there is much more political capital to be made in keeping the issue alive with supporters and vilifying the opposition.

But at the end of the day we come back to the question.  How powerful do we want the central government, and how much of our individual freedom are we willing to surrender to have it?  As our founding fathers understood; freedom is not an absolute and if power rests with the few they will exercise it at the expense of the many.  Think about that as we remember our founding.

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