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OUR FIRST FREEDOM.

There is no such thing as a free nation where police and the military are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not.

For those of us who've lived through the last half or three-quarters of the 20th century, the new millennium promises an entirely new world. We've seen a lot of changes worldwide and within our country, and much of what has defined us as a culture and a nation is being lost. The one American cultural touchstone that's being disparaged and diminished most today is the tradition of gun ownership in general and the constitutional right to own firearms in particular. This is a dangerous development.

Those who wish to do away with that freedom are focusing on young people as their primary target audience. Ultimately, future generations may have to pay the price for that loss of freedom with their liberties and their lives. That's why I urge you as fellow parents and grandparents not to let the American tradition of firearm ownership perish.

When I grew up in the north woods of Michigan, hunting was a way of putting food on my family's table during the Depression. We hunted for meat more than sport. Firearms were an everyday household tool, and no one even questioned the right to own them. We grew up using them. And the occurrence of crimes committed with firearms was cause for headlines, not a shrug and a "What else is new?"

THE KEYSTONE OF LIBERTY

In the intervening years, as gun ownership came under ever-increasing attack, I came to realize that a firearm--and the right to own it--means a lot more than sport or food or tradition. Above and beyond utility or hobby or anything else, the right to own a firearm means freedom since it, more than any other single right, guarantees that freedom can survive.

In order of importance, I rank the Second Amendment our first freedom. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, assembly, and redress of grievances, it's first among equals. It's the one right that prevails when all others fail, the one right that allows rights to exist at all.

There's nothing particularly new about this idea or debate. Over 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle considered arms ownership the single most reliable indicator of whether a society was free. On the other side of the coin, Plato considered ordinary people too reckless, too ruled by emotion, or not intelligent or judicious enough to be trusted to conduct their own affairs. For Plato, the common people needed an elite class of "philosopher kings" to rule over them and protect them from their vices.

Unfortunately, it's tough to relate to "the little people" when you live in an ivory tower. No matter how benign "Plato's republic" might have seemed in theory, in practice it would have amounted to a police state.

THOSE WHO FORGET THE PAST ...

There is no such thing as a free nation where police and the military are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not. Those of us who've seen the terrors visited upon the human race this century know: From Hitler and Stalin, to Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, every genocide we've seen began with the denial of the right to keep and bear arms.

That doesn't mean gun bans always lead to genocide. But they make genocide easier and pave the road to tyranny, whether or not a dictator happens to be on the stage yet. Tyranny doesn't have to come from government. It can come through the bedroom window or hang like a sullen shadow over the lives of those forced to live in fear. In our inner cities, where firearms are outlawed, only outlaws are armed. When our "philosopher kings" sit back and do nothing, this is the tyranny and terror of "gun control."

But kids today can't be expected to understand all that. They haven't lived long enough to have learned the lessons of history, and what they have learned about the Second Amendment--if anything at all--is that it's outdated, or dangerous, or doesn't mean what it says.

Look at the world they grow up in. They've never known the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, or the threat of nuclear annihilation. If they were even born by the time of Vietnam, it's at most a grainy memory. They've never known a world where the English begged for American firearms to defend themselves from an expected Nazi invasion. They've never known a world where high-school rifle teams were as common and as accepted as baseball teams or debating clubs. They've never known a world where the Second Amendment was anything but attacked, ignored, or assigned the blame for crimes of all kinds.

CULTURAL WAR ON A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT

Schools teach against it. Churches preach against it. Teachers who don't understand or don't believe in the right to keep and bear arms pass on their ignorance and indifference. Textbooks claim the Second Amendment guarantees government's right to assemble a National Guard, or that it's a "collective right" of society or the states. The right to bear arms is misinterpreted, kids are told--or it doesn't exist at all.

The national media's antigun messages are just as pervasive. For many adults, the background buzz of that bias is so common and constant that they no longer hear it. But kids hear it. Like infants learning language, they suck it up like a sponge.

On every evening newscast for 30 years or so, firearms have served as the universal symbolic shorthand for crime. On everything from prime-time documentaries to kids' cartoons, gun owners are routinely ridiculed as backward backwoods rustics, camouflage-clad militia madmen, gang members, or worse.

Yet while preaching that guns are an evil to be abolished, these noble media guardians of free speech invade our living rooms with made-for-TV massacres. Movies, music, and video games glorify gunplay, gangbangers, and gore. Yet when anyone asks the media to quit marketing murder, they shrug their shoulders, jump in their limos, and scurry back to their security-gated mansions.

Everywhere kids turn today, the antigun drumbeat resonates louder. From the American Medical Association to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors' organizations now classify firearms as harmful agents--like viruses or germs--and prescribe gun bans as some miracle "vaccine" against gun crime.

Even foreign countries are jumping into the act, blaming their problems on our freedoms and demanding that the U.S. restrict or revoke the rights of law-abiding Americans because they can't or won't control crime in their own countries.

Stop and think about what that means. Countries that don't allow their citizens the right to vote--and who wouldn't know what any freedom meant if it weren't for the United States--are now turning around and saying our Bill of Rights is a bad idea! To those of us who have been around for a while, this is so absurd as to be laughable. But to young people today, it's all they hear and all they have ever known.

And soon, if not already, those young, impressionable minds will account for a decisive voting bloc in every national election. That's why I so strongly believe we must teach the next generation of Americans about the right to keep and bear arms.

Because if this society-wide cultural war against the Second Amendment continues, and young people aren't primed to understand its awesome importance, then firearm freedom could be forsaken and forgotten in just one generation.

You know where I stand, but let me say it again: The Second Amendment guarantees us the absolute ability to defend ourselves from anyone who would take away our liberties or our lives, whether it be King Charles' Redcoats or today's criminal predators. It alone offers the capacity to live without fear. It is the one natural right that allows "rights" to exist at all. If that freedom is ever lost, then the rest of our freedoms are sure to follow.

These ideas are a lot to ask young people to understand. That's why I believe it's our duty to sustain the tradition of gun ownership because only if the tradition lives on can it provide fertile ground for the freedom to thrive.

If we do our part, young people will continue to grow up with firearms, and out of that interest, a few of them will realize later in life -- as I and so many others did -- why the right to keep and bear arms is so crucial to our safety and our liberty.

In so doing, young people can learn how rights come with responsibilities, why rules matter, and where they fit into their families and their society. These are valuable, positive lessons that can reverberate for a lifetime.

RIGHTS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND GROWING UP

Soon after a tragedy involving young people with firearms, President Clinton proclaimed, "A gun in the hands of a young person is a crime or an accident waiting to happen." Now, no matter how much mileage he might have gotten out of that sound bite, it doesn't reflect reality.

As for gun accidents, while the number of privately owned firearms has more than quadrupled over the past several decades, the National Safety Council tells us the number of gun accidents has declined to all-time record lows for young people and all ages.

And I'd like to remind our president: With a father, uncle, older brother, or friend, that "gun in the hands of a young person" is probably the most effective tool available for teaching personal responsibility and safety, sportsmanship, the ethics of hunting, the achievement of marksmanship, and much more.

I'm sure a lot of you will revisit pleasant memories of your own when I say I'll never forget the day I was given my first firearm. It was the best gift a young man could hope for, a rite of passage on the way to adulthood that said, "We trust you to behave safely and responsibly." And like generations of Americans before me, and like so many of my friends, that's exactly what I did.

For many young people, being allowed to own a firearm or use a firearm can be a maturing experience, and the reason is simple: The transfer of trust that goes with the gun doesn't just acknowledge a young person's responsibility and self-discipline; in so doing, it also reinforces those virtues in a way that no training or textbook ever can.

I sincerely believe that if we had a little more of fathers or grandfathers sharing these lessons with young people -- instead of leaving them to be baby-sat by ultra-violent TV programs or video games -- then we could have a more responsible, safe, and peaceful society.

So I urge you: Don't let Second Amendment freedom atrophy through disuse. Don't let the right to keep and bear arms be forsaken or forgotten. Share these vital lessons, virtues, and values with the young people in your life. In so doing, not only can you expose them to a hobby that lasts a lifetime, you can also exert a maturing, strengthening influence on their development. And, with a little luck, you just might spark a passion for American freedom that bums brightly long after you're gone.
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Title Annotation:in defense of the second amendment
Author:Heston, Charlton
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1875
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