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Owning firearms is a First Amendment exercise, too!

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Following the hysteria generated by gun prohibitionists in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, a nationwide rush on gun stores began as citizens bought semiautomatic modern sporting rifles, handguns and ammunition, in effect “making a political statement” about proposals to ban such firearms.

Making political statements is what the First Amendment is all about.

The so-called “assault rifle” has become a symbol of freedom and the right of the people to speak out for the entire Bill of Rights. Banning such firearms can no longer be viewed exclusively as an infringement on the Second Amendment, but must also be considered an attack on the First Amendment.

Many people now feel that owning a so-called “assault rifle” without fear of government confiscation defines what it means to be an American citizen. Their backlash against knee-jerk extremism is a natural reaction to overreaching government.

What should one expect in response to this heightened rhetoric and legislative hysteria? Among firearms owners, talk of gun bans and attempts to limit a person's ability to defend himself against multiple attackers by limiting the number of rounds he can have in a pistol or rifle magazine turns gun owners into political activists.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein did not intend her gun ban proposal to cause skyrocketing sales of semiautomatic rifles and pistols, but that's what happened.

President Barack Obama never envisioned the rush to purchase rifle and pistol magazines, but telling American citizens they shouldn't have something is like sending a signal they need to acquire those things immediately.

Vice President Joe Biden never imagined his efforts would result in a tidal wave of new members and contributions to gun rights organizations.

Perhaps they should take a day off and visit the monuments at Lexington and Concord, and reflect on what prompted those colonists to stand their ground. It was the first time in American history that the government moved to seize arms and ammunition from its citizens, and it went rather badly for the British.

Beneath the surface many Americans are convinced that we may be approaching a point when the true purpose of the Second Amendment is realized. Underscoring this is a new Pew Research Center poll that, for the first time, shows a majority (53 percent) of Americans believe the government is a threat to their rights and freedoms.

Exacerbating the situation is a perceived indifference from the administration toward the rights of firearms owners who have committed no crime, but are being penalized for the acts of a few crazy people.

It is time to lower the rhetoric and allow cooler heads to prevail. The demonization of millions of loyal, law-abiding Americans and the firearms they legally own must cease. If we are to have a rational dialogue about firearms and violent crime, we must recognize that the very people who could be most affected have a First Amendment right to be heard.

Recall the words of Abraham Lincoln, who cautioned us more than 150 years ago that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A half-century before him, Benjamin Franklin taught us that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Their spirits are calling to us now.

Alan Gottlieb is founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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