On July 4th, a limited meaning of freedom

Second Amendment

Another Fourth of July is upon us. Once again we are preparing to celebrate our Independence Day with parades, ball games, cookouts and community gatherings. Loudspeakers will resound with “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful.” Our hearts will swell at the familiar words, “From every mountainside, let freedom ring” and “Brotherhood from sea to shining sea.’ Come night, loud explosions will fill the air. Will they accompany the bursting sprays of multicolored stars and spiraling rockets as the skies light up with spectacular displays? Or, while we ooh and aah at the glorious show, will other fireworks be taking place in our country, sowing death and destruction?

America’s 100 senators are on summer recess, thrilled with the compromise they have reached with their House colleagues. The just passed bipartisan Safer Communities Act will supposedly save countless lives with strengthened background checks of gun buyers, increased penalties for gun traffickers, protection of domestic violence victims and improved mental health services. All good ideas, but will they be effective as long as semiautomatic guns remain legally available?

The National Rifle Association lost no time registering its opposition to the act by trotting out its tired canard of the Second Amendment. That amendment is surprisingly short and reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s all it says, and one can’t help but wonder what kind of arms our Founding Fathers were referring to in 1791. Revolutionary guns of that era included mostly muskets and flintlock pistols. A typical musket had a one-round magazine capacity and could fire about three effective rounds per minute in the hands of the most skilled wielder. The Uvalde gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle with a magazine that carries 30 rounds.

Among all the capable legal minds in our government, has anyone seriously argued the legal applicability of the Second Amendment when it comes to today’s weapons? The semi-automatic and other assault guns did not exist in 1791. The authors of the amendment obviously referred to muskets and pistols. They could have, but did not specify “any arms that may be invented in the future.”

It is useful to compare the Second Amendment history and meaning with that of the First Amendment — the right of free speech. Its meaning has been the subject of continuing interpretation and dispute over the years. Landmark Supreme Court cases have dealt with the right of citizens to protest U.S. involvement in foreign wars, flag burning and the publication of classified government documents. In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) the U.S. Supreme Court established the fighting words doctrine that spells out certain limits to the freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment.

Our current Supreme Court has just ruled against the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade. A landmark constitutional right to abortion, established almost 50 years ago, is declared no longer valid. Those in favor of this far-reaching decision claim to be led by a pro-life philosophy. Is it not more than high time to also consider the right to life of America’s children who are already born and who are afraid to go to school?

Today, in America, can we really joyfully celebrate our “independence” and call ourselves “free,” until we have rid ourselves of these military-style weapons that have nothing to do with prudent self-defense or fair hunting practices but are used on an almost daily basis to murder innocent people?

Elisabeth Breslav is a regular essay writer for the Oronoque, Stratford, Villager magazine. Her memoir “Blackouts, Bombs and Sugar Beets” is currently being agented in the U.S, Canada and Europe.

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