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On the Fourth, Ask, “What is Freedom?”

On the Fourth, Ask, “What is Freedom?”

Photo credit: Mike Mozart courtesy Flickr

As a life member of the NRA, I put freedom first. Why? As it is for all of us, the answer is both simple and complex. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution sums up our need for freedom this way:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

America is the first nation in history consciously founded on the highest, most-universal value: freedom. We guard our freedom zealously. Our government’s primary purpose is to assure our freedom as individuals and to protect us from those who would abuse it or abolish it. All other government functions are secondary to that. That is why the allegorical female figure atop our nation’s Capitol is named “Freedom,” and is a symbol of hope to people everywhere. That is also why our national bird is the eagle. It appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on our coins because the eagle is the most able to soar heavenward; its flight is symbolic of the freedom we enjoy. And that is why our nation’s highest civilian award, like the Medal of Honor for our armed forces, is the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Freedom is fundamental to the American way of life. It is our essence, our raison d’etre. As President Ronald Reagan (R) once put it: “Freedom is the deepest and noblest aspiration of the human spirit.”

Freedom serves the interests of everyone; it transforms lives and revitalizes societies. Freedom releases creative energy; it is the engine of all progress—technological, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual. Freedom moves the hearts and minds of the American people. It is the key to unlocking our human potential, individually and collectively. 

The Liberty Bell is inscribed with words taken from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Millions upon millions outside our nation have heard that proclamation and come to our shores to embrace it in “the land of the free.”

The political experiment called America began in 1776 when we declared our independence from British rule. It became a place for every human being to use his or her talents, effort, and resources to pursue happiness, to build a satisfying life in a context of freedom—responsible freedom which encourages creative individuality, caring, a stable family life, civic involvement, social and environmental concern for the well-being of others, and spiritual unity. Perceiving that, John Adams spoke of God as “the Spirit of Liberty.”

If freedom is so fundamental and so important to America, we should understand it well. What exactly is freedom? 

Freedom means the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in one’s choice or action. The essence of freedom is having a choice. It is having the power to do as you please or not being subject to another’s will. A person is free to the extent that he or she can exercise choice. The opposite of freedom is coercion, subjugation, involuntary servitude, bondage, imprisonment, slavery. 

In America, freedom of choice is regarded as our fundamental condition and inalienable right. We Americans speak of the right to live our lives as we choose—the right to self-determination, the right to create our own destiny. The American way of life means freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; it also means the exercise of social, political, and economic rights and privileges. It means the unhampered right to pursue the opportunities of life, which necessarily includes our right to defend our lives.

The nationwide movement toward “constitutional carry” is a beautiful expression of this freedom. The Second Amendment didn’t give us this right. The right has always existed. But the Second Amendment does protect this right from government actions that seek to diminish it. Constitutional carry is a means of taking this right back from the clutches of government. It is a retaking of freedom.

The Fourth of July is an ideal time to think about our freedom. What was once won , what we must win back, and what we must keep.

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