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July 7, 2008

Freedom vs. Responsibility

Now that we have properly celebrated the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our freedom as a nation, perhaps it is time to begin a reflection on the obverse side of the same coin. As German theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Responsibility and freedom are corresponding concepts. Factually, though not chronologically, responsibility presupposes freedom and freedom can consist only in responsibility. Responsibility is the freedom of men which is given only in the obligation to God and to our neighbour."

I have long believed that as an extension of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, the U.S. needs to build a Statue of Responsibility in San Francisco harbor. Our nation must maintain a very delicate balance between these two poles. Too much freedom and you have anarchy; too much regulation and you lose freedom. We do not live in isolation—we live in a greater community and we have the responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on our neighbors and the country as a whole.

This dichotomy has always fascinated me in regards to the gun safety debate. On the one hand we have zealots who proclaim that there are no acceptable restraints on their freedom to possess firearms. On the other hand we have zealots who believe that no one should be able to own firearms in any circumstance.

The recent Supreme Court decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller has set the principle that there are legitimate restraints on the constitutional rights of individual citizens to own firearms. This is consistent with the view of our Founders that government regulation was an integral part of not only the Second Amendment, but ordered liberty in general. A tremendous opportunity is now open to us. We can enter into a genuine debate—unmarred by propaganda— over what legitimate restraints can and should be placed on firearm sales and ownership in order to keep America’s communities safe. It will be a delicate balance to attempt to achieve, but many of our country’s greatest accomplishments have involved this type of careful and thoughtful compromise.


  1. "We can enter into a genuine debate—unmarred by propaganda— over what legitimate restraints can and should be placed on firearm sales and ownership in order to keep America’s communities safe."

    Yet on your "Issues and Campaigns" page you state:

    "Assault rifles can be bought without background checks at gun shows throughout the country."

    Do you see a contradiction there?

  2. Thirdpower, no we see no contradiction at all. Sadly, we recently blogged at Bullet Counter Points about a Philadelphia police officer who was shot and killed with an SKS assault rifle that had been purchased by a felon through a private sale at a North Carolina gun show (no background check):


    There has also been a great deal of reporting recently about assault weapons being purchased at gun shows in the Southwest United States through private sales by agents of Mexican drug cartels:




  3. I want to hear how citizens are supposed to defend themselves when they cannot get to a phone or are unable to run. Mind you the attackers is trying to kill you. What are citizens supposed to do? Can citizens fight back or not? If we can fight back, how come we can't use a gun before someone attacks us? Or is the criminals life more important than the law abiding citizens? I don't know if you know this or not but firearms are possibly the best things built in the world, they are as safe as they can be when they leave the factory, its people who abuse them, both law abiding and criminal alike, the only thing you can do is talk to people to be more responsible first and be held accountable. Second, put violent criminals behind bars and KEEP them there, no parole. Someone uses a weapon of any kind other than self-defense should be in prison for 15 years minimum. Doesn't matter if they hurt someone or just threatend someone with a weapon. Once criminals get the message crime will go down. 15 years is a looooooooong time to spend in jail/prison for not even hurting someone. I understand what your trying to do, keep people safe, but going after guns is not the first step. I heard about that incident in KY, its tragic, yes, but so is the drunk driver who kills an entire family of 4 and doesn't get hurt himself. This can go on and on for sure. Making it harder for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms isn't going to make it harder for criminals to get them, you know that and I know that. Oh, by the way I did some more looking into and found that 4,384,738 people were injured in transportation(overall) accidents and 69,825 were injured by firearms in 2005. I can see why you go after guns more than vehicles.

  4. Rudy, a few points here:

    1) Firearms in America are NOT as safe as they can be. Firearms are one of only two categories of consumer products in the U.S. not subject to federal health and safety regulation (the other being tobacco). Toy guns in this country have to meet a detailed list of standards before they are declared safe and released on the consumer market. Real guns do not, they are subject to no consumer regulation whatsoever.

    2) The United States currently has the highest documented incarceration rate and total documented prison population in the world:

    Incarcerating more people has has no demonstrated effect on the number of people killed by firearms in this country - we continue to lose more than 30,000 people to gun violence per year. Nor does it address the problem of how easy we have made it for criminals to acquire guns in the U.S. (in many cases, without so much as undergoing a background check). In any case, toughening criminal penalties in no way precludes simultaneous measures to limit criminal access to guns and crack down on illegal gun trafficking.

    3) We would dispute your assertion that requiring background checks for all gun sales would make it "harder for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms." It would not - most such checks take only a matter of minutes and pose no inconvenience whatsoever. That is why 87% of Americans currently support closing the private sales loophole at gun shows:


    4) According to CDC (WISQARS tool), the number of non-fatal injuries for motor vehicle occupants in 2005 was 2,730,648. We have already established in a comment on our previous blog that many groups in America are addressing the issue of motor vehicle safety (and in fact, have made our vehicles and roads far safer through decades of advocacy and hard work). CSGV admires their efforts and is advocating for similar public safety measures for firearms in this country. As stated earlier, a tremendous amount has been done in this country since the mid-20th century to address automobile safety in the U.S. Little or nothing has been done, to this day, to address the 30,000+ lives lost to gun violence each year (and the 70,000+ who are wounded annually), and American families continues to pay the price.

    - CSGV