The concept of freedom is acknowledged to be one of the highest values of Americans. However, we don’t often discuss what this really means.
Life, Liberty and Happiness
Let’s start with one of our most revered founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote that we have the right to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Great!
The problem is my idea of how to pursue life, liberty and happiness may involve not being around guns, while yours may.
Whose Idea of Freedom?
This is a central issue.
Some define “freedom” as the right to do what they want when they want to. However, action you may take can negatively affect others.
In that case, is your “freedom” infringing on someone else’s freedom?
Right to Stand Your Ground, or Track and Attack
In some states, we have seen occasional incidents where gun owning residents have shot others because they saw those individuals as a threat. Others may have viewed those incidents and see inappropriate aggression.
Often, those attacks have been by whites against people of color.
Most recently, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in his hometown when he was followed, shot and killed for the possible crime of stopping by a house that was under construction. Others had also visited that same property but were not pursued.
Didn’t Arbery have the same right to life, liberty and happiness as his attackers? Why would the possibility of a minor violation of trespassing grant “permission” for his attackers to engage in armed pursuit?
Speech and Open Carry
Here in Pennsylvania, “open carry” of firearms is legal. This means, unless explicitly prohibited by law, a firearm owner may carry firearms from pistols through rifles in most public places.
During recent protests at the State Capitol, we have seen firearm owners openly carrying semi-automatic rifles. Yes, this is a legal exercise of their rights – but how does it affect the rights of others?
The First Amendment grants a right of free speech. Do others feel comfortable expressing their views if a stranger carrying a lethal weapon and holding opposing views is nearby?
Control over Property
In Pennsylvania, the holder of a Concealed Carry License may assume they can bring their gun onto private property unless the property owner has posted, or notified them, that the firearm is not allowed.
This means the property owner is put in a position to tell a potentially armed individual that they don’t want guns on their property. Some may find this a bit of an uncomfortable conversation!
In this case, the firearm carrier has been ceded greater consideration than the property owner.
The Second Amendment is a Constitutional right, alongside many other rights.
That right does not mean those who choose to own firearms have an absolute right to ownership wherever and however they want. (See the US Supreme Court Heller decision.) Similarly, those who are not be comfortable with firearms are limited in their ability to restrict firearm sale and ownership.
Our shared work is to find a balance. We frame that as working to reduce gun injury and death and increase safety for all.
Is it possible to be a responsible gun owner who respects other peoples’ rights? Absolutely! In fact, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible and thoughtful of others.
Is it possible to be a gun owner who uses that ownership to threaten or repress others… absolutely!
Is it possible to be a gun violence prevention advocate who demands change that would violate modern interpretation of the Second Amendment? Yes! But in this case, is the goal balance or domination?
It is up to us to work to support thoughtful balance and consideration of all and reject domination and oppression. We all have rights when considering this issue.