PRESS EDITORIAL: Lawmaker negligence and the loss of the freedom from fear

Americans have lost a precious freedom, the freedom from fear.

The freedom from fear was proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his historic Four Freedoms (freedoms of speech and worship, from want and fear) State of the Union speech in 1941 and memorialized in the Universal Doctrine of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

In 2018, the freedom from fear in this country seems like an idyllic relic of the past, a treasure allowed to wither away by craven elected officials who lack the courage and integrity to enact reasonable gun control measures.

Every American with a shred of empathy for the families left grieving by the assault-rifle slaughter of 17 students and teachers last week in Florida has reason to fear the same could happen to members of their families.

That fear is justified, even here in the safe small towns of Ozaukee County, for there are no limits on the military-style firearms that have become the mass killing implements of choice at places where innocent victims gather, including schools—especially schools.

In an essay published Monday by the New York Times, Christine Yared, a 15-year-old freshman at the Parkland, Fla., high school where her classmates were killed and wounded, pleaded: “Don’t let any more children suffer like we have. Don’t continue this cycle. This may not seem relevant to you. But next time it could be your family, your friends, your neighbors. Next time it could be you.”

This wisdom from a teenager does not conflict with the hallowed Second Amendment, which has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as protecting the right to own guns but has been perverted through lawmaker negligence into an unrestricted license for civilians to possess and use weapons designed for warfare. 

The Second Amendment and gun control are not mutually exclusive. That was confirmed by the author of the 2008 decision upholding the amendment, the late Justice Anthony Scalia, who wrote that the court recognized an “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms . . . the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” He specifically mentioned the M-16 rifle issued to U.S. soldiers.

The semi-automatic weapons used to kill high school students in Florida and first graders in Connecticut, as well as scores of adults in other American mass-murder sprees, are essentially identical to that military assault rifle. They differ only in that they don’t have a full-automatic firing mode (something that, as the killer of 59 people in Las Vegas demonstrated, can be overcome by adding a cheap accessory called a bump stock).

Because they are of military derivation, the high-velocity 5.56 mm bullets fired by these AR-15 type weapons are designed expressly to inflict horrific damage to human bodies. These are the bullets killing our children.

AR-15 type rifles are made by numerous manufacturers and can be purchased for as little as $500. They come with magazines that hold 30 rounds of deadly ammunition.

Back when Republicans had the spine to stand up to the National Rifle Association, former GOP Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford joined Democrat Jimmy Carter in writing a letter to the House of Representatives calling for a ban on “semi-automatic assault guns” like the AR-15. They cited a poll finding that 77% of Americans supported banning the weapons. The ban was passed by Congress, but the law had a 10-year sunset provision and Congress let it die without a replacement in 2004.

The chances of Congress enacting a new assault-rifle ban are slim to nonexistent, even with the pressure building in the wake of the Florida school massacre. The NRA would not approve, which, it seems, is all it takes to frighten federal legislators.

That leaves state governments as the hope for gun limits to protect the public. After 20 children and six teachers were killed by an AR-15-armed man at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut in 2012, that state enacted a package of gun laws that included background checks for all firearm sales and restrictions on ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. In Connecticut, the accused perpetrator of the Florida school murders could not have bought the type of weapon he used.

Following the Sandy Hook killings, New York state legislators passed laws prohibiting the sale of assault rifles and magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds and requiring universal background checks for gun buyers.

Both states have experienced declining rates of gun deaths since enacting the restrictions, according to the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

In Wisconsin, the most recent legislative effort concerning guns and schools was a proposal to eliminate the concealed-carry restriction that makes it illegal to have guns in vehicles on school grounds. It is hard to avoid the judgment that proponents of that change are more concerned about the convenience of concealed-carry permit holders than the safety of students.

Adopting the successful initiatives that made citizens safer from gun violence in other states would be an act of responsible lawmaking and a start in Wisconsin toward restoring a precious freedom, the freedom from fear. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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