Orlando and Wounded Knee
I was working the day of the tragedy in Orlando and I worked the day after, when our President publicly addressed this heartbreaking event. I had time between calls to listen to his address and after reflecting on it, I took away from it a clear message about our rights as American citizens.
There are some frightening ideas that have surfaced in the wake of the recent shootings. Sadly, some have rejoiced at the killing of homosexuals. A few have gone as far as to say it was God’s will that they be killed. Some think we ought to close mosques and lock up anyone who preaches Jihad. The President, in his address, passionately argued that we cannot under any circumstance allow the freedoms of our citizens to be taken from them based on their religion or sexual orientation.
Because most of the recent mass killings have come at the hands of radical Muslims, some have suggested we consider restricting entry into our borders anyone coming from a nation known for breeding and exporting terrorism. In his response to this idea, the President noted that there can never be a religious litmus test that determines whether one should be allowed entry into the U.S.. On this point, he is right. However, it is a slightly more complicated issue.
If you happen to be a foreigner, you are not guaranteed the right to visit our country. It is within our rights as a nation to evaluate your background when you apply for a travel visa or citizenship. There are a number of things which, if they turn up on your background check, can cause your application to be rejected. Entry into our country is a privilege, not a guaranteed right. This is how it works in nearly every nation in the world. And although I think we would be wise to carefully vet those who enter our country from nations known for exporting terror—especially when the terrorists themselves have said their goal is to infiltrate our country—we can become overzealous and oppressive if we’re not careful.
The president didn’t mention it, but the reason homosexuals, Pagans, Jews, Christians and Muslims have the freedom to live as they wish is because of the constitution, which guarantees these rights. I applaud his passion in defending the rights that our citizens are given in the first amendment of the constitution. But as soon as he had finished this part of his message, he addressed what has become his other major passion—the issue of gun control.
He suggested that as a nation the world looks to for leadership, we must rethink our position on guns and we must understand that civilized societies do not need to be armed. He argued that this tragic killing only further proves that we can’t be trusted with deadly weapons. And in doing so, the President, who just a few minutes earlier said we cannot characterize an entire group by the actions of a few, painted all gun owners as untrustworthy because of the actions of a few.
What became obvious in his speech is that the President is willing to defend the constitutional rights of some groups, but he is not interested in defending the rights of all groups. In his hierarchy of groups who deserve to have their rights defended, homosexuals and Muslims rank higher than gun owners. He has a preference for defending the rights guaranteed by the first amendment, but not the second amendment. Unfortunately, the same is true for many of us.
I have many dear friends who live outside the U.S. They have no guns and they’re perfectly content to live without them. They deride us yanks over our foolish insistence on preserving our right to own guns. Some look at the way we cling to an old document written centuries ago and think we’ve gone mad. They see it as a useless relic that had its time, but which now has become obsolete.
There was an even larger mass killing in the U.S. on December 29,1890. On that day somewhere between 150 and 300 Sioux Indians were killed by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry (estimates on the death toll vary). The feds had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection”. The slaughter began after most of the Sioux had peacefully surrendered their weapons. The Calvary began shooting, and managed to wipe out the entire camp. Most of victims were unarmed women and children. The Wounded Knee massacre was among the first (but not the only) attempt by the government to confiscate legally owned firearms and it ended in the senseless murder of hundreds of people.
The Second Amendment was written by those who had fled oppressive and tyrannical regimes in Europe (governments less oppressive than those in some Arab nations today). It confers upon us the right to be armed for defensive purposes, should such tyranny arise within our own borders. And it is the duty and obligation of the President to uphold all the laws of the constitution—not just the ones he prefers.
If a government is able to restrict the rights of one group, it can restrict the rights of all groups. If we allow the rights of gun owners to be restricted, after we’ve been left defenseless, who is going to prevent the government from restricting the rights of any group that it dislikes? If you believe governments won’t pass laws that unnecessarily restrict personal freedoms, consider this:
In 2013, Queensland passed legislation outlawing motorcycle gangs. The law doesn’t just prohibit the activities of motorcycle clubs or gang-related crimes, but how individuals are allowed to dress. If you’re caught riding a Harley in a leather jacket with a gang emblem on it, your bike can be confiscated and you can be thrown in jail, whether you’re involved in criminal activity or not. My Aussie mates seem to pretty keen on the law, but I don’t imagine it affects any of their freedoms… only the freedoms of others.
Have we come to a point where we’ll only take a stand against the oppression of freedom if it directly impacts us?
I don’t think it’s wise to allow our government to further erode our rights. Even if one does not agree with homosexuality or gun ownership (or bikers), they’re all constitutional rights, and ones that are worth preserving just as much as the other rights we value; the right to freely assemble, to freely protest and to freely worship God.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Martin Niemöller
(Niemöller was a pastor and outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler, who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in various concentration camps.)