April 24, 2013
A Free Society Demands Responsible Citizens
By Dante Ferrigno
My wife and I are staunch defenders of the Constitution. In light of the coming attack on the 2nd Amendment we saw on the horizon, last year we decided to begin exercising our rights thereof. Within a very short period of time this endeavor became a lot more than a simple ideological statement. We were aware of the basic dangers associated with a firearm, but we also discovered that gun ownership demands a level of responsibility that we were not as accustomed to in the culture we grew up in. Being a responsible gun owner requires a great deal of time and energy. Unfortunately for a country that has flourished under the concept of free-enterprise and has something as rare and sacred as the 2nd Amendment, legal and responsible gun ownership also requires a lot more money than it should. This is a relatively new development that can be indirectly linked to the way Americans have progressively traded away their freedoms for a false notion of security.
The concept of liberty envisioned by our American Founders is fairly new to the world. Peoples around the world either long to come here to experience it, or want to shut us up for espousing it, but very few truly understand the nature of freedom. Even as a boy raised in a conservative Christian home I only had a poorly defined grasp of the concept. I knew all the popular American idioms that people used to let others know they believed in freedom such as: “freedom isn’t free” and “freedom without responsibility is anarchy,” but freedom is far more complex an idea than these catchy phrases can convey. Don’t get me wrong, as I am typing this I am wearing a tee shirt that says “Liberty or Death” on it so I love all these aphorisms. Nevertheless, I have also noticed that freedom is a bit of a mystery to many who haven’t made it a priority to understand the nature of freedom.
Even when I was a young adult I understood that there were laws to protect people from crimes such as rape, murder, and theft because those things deprive others of their life, liberty, or the ability to pursue happiness, and that these things should be protected by force of law. I observed, however, that the law was restricting me from doing many things that had nothing to do with defending these inherent rights of my fellow man, but rather were attempts to force me to do things someone else thought I should do, or not to do things they thought I shouldn’t do. I didn’t take kindly to having anyone tell me I couldn’t do something that only dealt with my own personal pursuit of happiness. When I was a child, I understood that my parents had the right to limit my personal decisions; after all parents are charged by nature’s God with the responsibility of training their own children up to be adults capable of dealing with life on their own. But once I was out of the sphere of responsibility of my parents I had some strong doubts as to the validity of the rules other adults were trying to impose upon me. As I pondered these things, I would often discuss these thoughts with my friends and members of my family, and I found that even some of the people I trusted and loved tried to tell me why it was acceptable and even encouraged to force others to do certain things like wear seat belts or wear helmets, and not to do other things like gamble or take drugs. The notion of using force for these purposes was very confusing to my basic understanding of freedom and personal responsibility.
Today there’s no doubting that Americans have been indoctrinated with the concept that government should protect us from our own decisions. Everything from what we put in our bodies to how we protect ourselves when riding in a vehicle is regulated by the state and most people think this is a great idea. The notion of having a bureaucracy regulating what your favorite restaurant is doing is considered a basic common sense idea. The problem with common sense is that it doesn’t consider the unintended consequences of using force to limit the decisions people are allowed to make. Common sense can’t even begin to fathom the complexity of the very notion of unintended consequences in concepts like civil society or market economics because common sense takes a trial and error approach to action that says, “if I do this, then that happens.” The problem with this approach in civil society or market economics is that one can’t always see the causal relationship between actions and their far-reaching consequences. And these consequences are the kind of things that destroy the foundation for a free people to exist in a world where the idea of freedom in society is generally a very alien concept.
Sadly it has become apparent that freedom is now an alien concept in the minds of many Americans. The institutionalization of people’s dependence on the state for everything they claim they need is one of the greatest roadblocks we face as a nation because this “safety net” doesn’t allow the inherent consequences of making bad decisions to bring people to the realization that they are limiting their future options and that they need to make a change for their own sake. This roadblock is also something that cannot be overcome collectively, and we can’t wait for our lawmakers to get on board. We must individually begin to take responsibility for our own lives. So when you hear someone say something to the effect of, “you can’t have freedom without responsibility,” remember that this is absolutely true, but keep in mind you do not need to force adults to be responsible if they are left to be accountable for the outcome of irresponsibility. If you are longing for the America you grew up knowing, the America that innately understood what it meant to be "the land of the free, and the home of the brave," remember that the people in your life are watching your actions a lot more than they’re listening to your words or reading your Facebook posts. Be an example of responsible parenting, responsible gun ownership, and responsible citizenship. Take responsibility for your actions and decisions at work and at home, and do what is honorable with regard to your word and your contracts because a free society demands responsible citizens.