The Most Important Freedom
by Dianne R. Portfleet, Ph.D.
Charlton Heston raised his arm, holding his rifle high and shouted loudly, "Out of my cold, dead hands." Tears filled my eyes as I watched this man, in advanced stages of Alzheimer's, being held by his wife, still able to recognize the importance of our right as citizens of the United States of America to keep and to bear arms.
The founding leaders of the United States were determined America could remain free only if its citizens were assured of certain rights that would guarantee their ability to withstand the abuses of power, by individuals, police, or government. One of the most important rights was the Second Amendment, "that the right of the people to keep and bear arms would not be infringed." Thomas Jefferson declared: "No free man (or woman) shall ever be debarred of the use of arms." (Jefferson Papers, page 334, ed. C.J. Boyd). In 1770 he further emphasized this right: "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws only make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assassins; they tend to encourage than to prevent homicides. For an unarmed man or woman may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man or woman."
George Washington agreed: "Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the people's liberty teeth and keystone...The rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable...more than 99% of the (guns) by their silence indicate that they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference (crime)." Or as Noah Webster stated: Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe." (1787, Pamphlets on the Constitution of the US) "Americans have the right and the advantage of being armed, unlike the people of other countries, whose governing people are afraid to trust them with arms." (James Madison) Or as George Mason further emphasized, "To disarm a people is the most effectual way to enslave them."
One statement struck me as I listened to Charlton Heston in his speech to the NRA: "I say that the Second Amendment is, in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America's First Freedom, the one right that protects all the others. Among freedom of speech, of press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to bear arms is the one right that allows "rights" to exist at all." And the first leaders of our country knew that the Bill of Rights was necessary to prevent a government's misconstruction or abuse of its powers, and that this Bill would extend the public's general confidence in the Government and alleviate its fear of another government like that of England which they had just overthrown. (Preamble to the Bill of Rights)
Recently in the United States we have seen our rights gradually taken from us, and before we lose even more of our rights which have made America the unusual and wonderful nation that it is, those of us who believe in our individual rights as citizens need to speak more loudly and care more fervently about the freedoms we have enjoyed throughout our lifetimes and want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian in exile in the United States, warned us repeatedly that we were on the path that the Soviet Union (former) had taken several years earlier that led to the terrible condition of repression that he and other Russians endured. Although he was ignored by most in our country, his statements are being fulfilled each day as our citizens are willingly allowing their freedoms to be taken away from them. Solzhenitsyn stated that "he was not a critic of the West; he was a critic of the weakness of the West." "I am a critic of a fact which we (in Russia) cannot comprehend: how one can lose one's spiritual strength, one's will power and, possessing freedom, not value it, not be willing to make sacrifices for it...Human nature is full of contradictions and riddles. One of these riddles is: how is it that people who have been crushed by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit can nevertheless find the strength to rise up and free themselves, first in spirit then in body; while those who soar unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly lose the taste for freedom, lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost begin to crave slavery...How can free people, who have defended freedom across the world this century, suddenly plunge into lethargy, into a kind of mass blindness, a kind of voluntary self-deception...There is a German proverb: 'When courage is lost, all is lost.' There is another Latin one, according to which loss of reason is the true harbinger of destruction. But what happens in a society in which both these losses - the loss of courage and the loss of reason -intersect? This is the picture which I found in the West today." ...But the greatest danger of all is that you have lost the will to defend yourselves against those who would take away your freedoms."
We in the United States who still value our freedoms, need to heed the warnings, open our eyes to how quickly our freedoms are being taken from us and take a stand against any attempt to convince us that it is for our good that the government wants to control our economy, our health care, and, most importantly, wants to be responsible for our safety by taking away our most valuable right, the right to keep and bear arms. Freedom of speech to disagree openly, plus the right for individuals to bear arms, are the first two freedoms lost when leaders want to control a people. We need to speak loudly at tea parties, town hall meetings and at the April 19th March on Washington, to let all people know that our freedoms are important enough to take a stand for and to defend. If we keep silent now, we will lose our valuable freedoms. We have lived too long with the assumption that what happened in Germany, Poland, Russia, Iran, etc. cannot happen here. Leyla Myers, born in Azerbaijan Republic, former Soviet Union, stated after reading 1984, I knew that while I lived in the Soviet Union I was a generation that did not know that a human is capable to think and to reason. And the Soviet government did not have to torture me to get me to that stage - I was already born in a thought-vacuum my ancestors allowed to be established."
Let's not let our next generations be in a thought vacuum and not even realize the irreplaceable freedoms, that we, their fathers and mothers, willingly and without a fight, gave up. I hope to see each of you on April 19th or at other rallies throughout the country speaking loudly to our leaders about the necessity of voting against any legislation that takes away our freedom to bear arms.
Dianne R. Portfleet, Ph.D.
Hope College, Holland, Michigan