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Why am I writing about liberty, a word which is etched into our civic consciousness at a very early age?  In the diary-fest that followed Aurora, someone left a comment that ended thus:

I hope a few on the other side will do away with their own self-righteousness long enough to see how small and petty it looks when you use an outrageous attack like this to push an unpopular, liberty-squashing agenda.
Liberty-squashing, about banning a certain group of guns. It made me think that something has happened -- it might be the Tea Party but I don't want to blame them -- to what we think of as liberty, and that it has to do with privilege.

My immediate response was not printable, but it occurred to me that this might be an occasion to point out the ways that in the large community that is the membership of Daily Kos, some of us are not as equal as the rest of you in certain crucial ways that make using "liberty-squashing" in the context of the Second Amendment look ridiculous.

Discussion below the great orange gunrest.

Liberty is one of the key words in American political discourse. It's guaranteed to us in the Preamble of the Constitution:

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.
It's translated into the conclusion of the original (1892) Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
 We don't think about it a lot because we're SURE we know what it means, and I'd guess most of us think that "freedom" and "liberty" are interchangeable.

So I went to the Oxford English Dictionary.  There are 15 HEADINGS for definitions of "freedom." The ones that fit our understanding of it in terms of citizenship are

3. The state or fact of not being subject to despotic or autocratic control, or to a foreign power; civil liberty; independence.
1724   Swift Let. to Molesworth 9   Freedom consists in a People being Governed by Laws made with their own Consent.
4. a. The state of being able to act without hindrance or restraint; liberty of action. and c. As a count noun: a particular type of freedom (sense 4a), esp. when regarded as a right; a civil liberty.
1999   Herald (Glasgow) 6 Apr. 14/5   Our forebears struggled for centuries to achieve the freedoms which we enjoy today, including the right of opposition parties and the press to question Government policy.
4c leads us to "liberty." 5 headings here, and the one that seems to fit what we mean is
2. c. Each of those social and political freedoms which are considered to be the entitlement of all members of a community; a civil liberty.
OED also defines civil liberty:
2. a. Freedom of the individual within society; spec. the liberty to which all members of a community or society are entitled within the bounds of laws considered necessary for the good of the community as a whole.
1801   E. Pendleton Let. 5 Oct. in Lett. & Papers (1967) II. 696   The chief good derivable from government, is civil liberty.
So "Liberty" is the ability to freely exercise all the rights we have as citizens. These include the rights given to us by the Constitution (as you remember, Amendment 9 says that we're also entitled to rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution). Certainly, these include rights conferred by the First, the Second and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Then I did a google search of liberty and gun rights. Most of the documents I found that referred to an erosion of gun rights were from state chapters of the National Rifle Association, and they contrasted the precarious nature of gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment (Mark Sumner makes this emphasis VERY clear in his front page diary today) with the absolute sacrosanct nature of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.  The problem is that, within the First Amendment, several rights were understood to be limited when the amendments were written and others have been limited since then. For clarity, here's the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
"No law respecting an establishment of religion" appears to be the most sacrosanct. The Supreme Court has itself violated the free exercise of religion when it told Conservative and Orthodox Jewish chaplains that they could not wear the head covering prescribed by Exodus and Leviticus indoors unless they were performing a religious service (Goldman v Weinberger, 1986). The freedom of speech and that of the press are limited by the laws regarding libel and slander. As for peaceable assembly, that right has been eroded most of all by requiring parade permits and in the constant negotiation over public and private property that we saw the Occupy movement dealing with on a daily basis last fall and winter. So I have to wonder why the Second Amendment can't, or shouldn't, be restricted in similar ways.

Let's also remember that when the Second Amendment was passed, a majority of American citizens couldn't even vote, and millions of Americans were owned by thousands of other Americans. The clearest expression of the individual right to own guns before 2008 is, ironically, contained in Dred Scott v Sandford (1856) as an incidental comment in the decision that said black people could never be citizens. In 2008, Heller v District of Columbia found an individual right (it doesn't matter that Scalia wrote the majority opinion, it's still the law) to keep and bear arms, and in 2010, McDonald v. Chicago extended the right to the states (Alito wrote this one).  The decisions didn't discuss whether there were any guns that should be limited the way cop-killer bullets are. But there's one other constitutional provision we have to look at: the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

Amendment XIV; Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws


The theory behind the Equal Protection clause is what got all those subaltern people -- black men (15th Amendment), women of all races (19th Amendment) -- the ability to vote, and it's the section of the Constitution that protects the LGBT community in securing our civil rights. As the ACLU says:

The ACLU works to ensure that LGBT people have equal opportunity to participate fully in civil society. No LGBT person should experience discrimination in employment, housing, or in businesses and public places, or the suppression of their free expression or privacy rights. The ACLU seeks new laws against discrimination in states and at the federal level, and resists all attempts to weaken the impact of existing nondiscrimination laws. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” our current federal priority is passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
But, of course, it's not that easy. When the American Psychiatric Association decided in 1973 that gay people did NOT suffer from a mental illness, the only state that had decriminalized us was Illinois. We were not thoroughly decriminalized until Lawrence v Texas in 2003, and, even now, we don't have the full panoply of civil rights all of you have. I can be fired simply if someone THINKS I'm gay in 30 states. I have to limit my job search to the 11 states in which my marriage will be recognized. I'd be very happy to have the liberties you have. And I know all about what it's like to have rights taken away from me. The Defense of Marriage Act was a preemptive taking away of rights, and Proposition 8 came close to being the same thing in California (it dcertainly was for the same-sex couples who want to get married but didn't manage to do so in the five-month window). LGBT people in Maine had marriage taken away from them by referendum too. Nobody attacks me for pointing that out, either.

"Liberty-squashing." Because you can't own a particular type of gun. Count your blessings if that's the only area in which you feel your rights are curtailed.

4:50 PM PT: So let's see.  RKBA people don't show up unless it's something contentious?

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 12:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by Invisible People and Angry Gays.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips to avoid hyperbole in political discussions (15+ / 0-)

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 11:38:21 AM PDT

  •  Very interesting perspectives on guns, liberty, (6+ / 0-)

    freedom, rights, types of guns, marriage equality, curtailment of rights, and counting blessings.

    Thanks for your thoughtful diary, Dave in Northridge.



    (p.s. hyperbole = obvious, intentional exaggeration.)

  •  tipped and rec'd (7+ / 0-)

    for the tone and amount of civility shown. Great diary.


    Squidward: The noises! How are you two making those noises?

    Patrick: Well, that's easy. All you need is a box.

    SpongeBob: And...imagi~nation!

    by rexymeteorite on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 12:55:17 PM PDT

  •  Etymology (5+ / 0-)


    The English word “liberty” comes from the Latin “liber” meaning free. At an earlier point in time, the world was used to designate “people” meaning “being a member of the free people” as opposed to “being a slave.” The Latin “liber” is also the basis for the English “liberal” where is originally indicated “generous” and “appropriate to the cultural pursuits of free people” (this is in reference to liberal arts).


    The English word “justice” is based on the Latin “jūs” which seems to have originated in words referring to religious cults and appears to have signified “a sacred formula.” The Latin adjective “jūstus” has become the English “justice.”

    Didn't mean to hijack a good diary, but it sent my mind off in search of the deep meanings of some of the words.


  •  Thank you, Dave. (3+ / 0-)

    We shouldn't forget that even still most GLB people have more rights than transpeople.

  •  Great post Dave, and it got me thinking . . . (4+ / 0-)

    . . . and writing, and then I looked at the writing and thought, "Holy crap, this could be construed as offensive by someone who has had Constitutionally-protected rights taken away", and then I thought, "OK, go for it, because these are some good thoughts", so, ready or not, here goes.

    One of the problems with the pursuit of liberties and freedoms is that, in a pursuit that you may wholeheartedly consider as your Constitutionally-protected right, say to purchase a fully automatic weapon without the slightest inconvenience, you might actually encroach upon the pursuit that another person considers, just as wholeheartedly, her or his Constitutionally-protected right, say the pursuit of entertainment without the worry that someone who just purchased a fully automatic weapon without the slightest inconvenience was actually mentally stable enough to responsibly own one.

    The fact is that if any of us are to have liberties or freedoms, we must realize that our own liberties and freedoms extend only up to the point where they begin to encroach upon someone else's liberties and freedoms. Yours are no more or no less important than mine, and those conferred upon us by the 1st Amendment are no more or no less important than those conferred upon us by the 27th, or whatever number we end up with.

    That's the beauty of the Amendment process, so that when our personal or collective pursuits conflict, when the times change, when our priorities are re-evaluated, we can get a do-over and get it right. So when we consider

    " . . . the precarious nature of gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment . . . "
    against the
    " . . . absolute sacrosanct nature of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment . . ."

    we should remember that none of the liberties and freedoms enumerated (or not enumerated) in the Bill of Rights and the subsequent Amendments are absolute, in spite of what some may feel. None of them are perfect, since they were authored by imperfect beings, and none of them are above reconsideration.

    That being said, it's high time that the 2nd Amendment came back down and took it's rightful place in the pantheon of all the other Amendments that are subject to reconsideration. Don't need to repeal, just stop hyperventilating about Obama coming for your 2nd Amendment protected guns and show some common sense responsibility about pursuing your 2nd Amendment rights.

    Sorry, just my little spew.

    To these unfortunate citizens aid must be extended by Government--not as a matter of charity but as a matter of social duty. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

    by rudyblues on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 02:36:25 PM PDT

    •  I'm glad I wrote this, then! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rudyblues, Joy of Fishes, EdSF

      Especially when you came to your conclusion:

      Don't need to repeal, just stop hyperventilating about Obama coming for your 2nd Amendment protected guns and show some common sense responsibility about pursuing your 2nd Amendment rights.
      The hyperventilating about Obama isn't just about guns, is it.  Great comment!

      -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

      by Dave in Northridge on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 03:12:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great post, Dave. (3+ / 0-)

    Very interesting and informative.  Certainly puts things in perspective.  Do I remember correctly that you are an educator?  Your students are very fortunate.

  •  I have oft wondered why the second amendment (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EdSF, blueoasis, Dave in Northridge

    seems to be made of gold while the first and fourteen made of tin or brass.

    I care a great deal more about the first and fourteenth, for instance than the second. And, it would seem, for good reason given the seemingly constant lessening of both while it would appear the second remains relatively unscathed.

    Guns, deadly as they can be, seem to trump almost everything I really hold dear.

    It really makes me wonder why we don't have such rabid interest in Free Speech which doesn't kill people.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:50:00 PM PDT

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