AUBURN — As the author of Maine’s constitutional carry law, I am a relentless defender of our Second Amendment.

And as a member of the millennial generation and one of the nation’s youngest state senators, I also have unwavering faith that young people can change the world.

When the problems created by past generations – including a $21 trillion debt, endless wars and the continued erosion of our liberties – begin to fall on the shoulders of our generation, young Americans must stand up and speak for change.

That’s why, while I disagree in the strongest terms with calls for restricting the Second Amendment, I applaud the tremendous energy of the students who gathered in Portland and across the country Saturday.

As Ronald Reagan warned us a generation ago, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” The obligation to protect freedom and confront its many challenges will fall to all members of our generation. We must accept this responsibility and exercise it with great care, carrying it with passion and leading with measured reason.

When he was 12 years old, Freeman Hrabowski was arrested while marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Dr. King told Hrabowski in his jail cell, “What you do this day will have an impact on children yet unborn.”

But for Saturday’s events to carry anything approaching the authority and impact of the actions of Mr. Hrabowksi and his allies, they must be backed by educated fact. And I think many in our younger generation are sorely lacking in constitutional understanding.

Our Constitution contains clear and absolute language that protects our rights. When it comes to free speech, it says, “Congress shall make no law … .” And when it comes to firearms, it says that, “the right … to bear arms shall not be infringed.” In America we cherish the rule of law, and we must realize that if we ignore one part of the Constitution, then all of the Constitution can be trampled. If we allow illegal federal restrictions on guns, allowing the Constitution to be bent in one instance, there is nothing to stop Washington from restricting free speech or outlawing a religion.

Too few of the students marching Saturday have been taught the constitutional truth. The Second Amendment is not about hunting or home defense – it is about the ability of people to take up arms should government become tyrannical.

If we were having an honest debate, gun control advocates would argue that the Second Amendment is antiquated and that we should change it, not through legislation, but by amending the Constitution.

I would passionately oppose such an amendment, but I would welcome an earnest, open debate that is so often lacking in today’s gotcha, sound bite-driven culture. But we are not having that debate, and many don’t want us to. They want solutions to all of our problems to appear as if the kings in Washington can decide them, rather than admit that we have a core structure provided by our Constitution that restrains the kings and protects the people.

There are no easy answers to our difficult problems, but President Reagan’s warning holds great truth: Freedom is never far from being lost. To preserve it, we must recommit ourselves to knowing and understanding the Constitution.

The Constitution was an imperfect document – we have amended it 27 times, sometimes even correcting injustices in the original text. The Constitution is, however, the greatest single document in human history and provides the road map we must follow to protect liberty. If we ignore it, as many in the gun control debate would like us to, then we risk losing all of our rights to the would-be kings in Washington, D.C.

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. King that our children today “will have an impact on children yet unborn.” But what will that impact be?

Zilda Arns Neumann, a Brazilian pediatrician and aid worker, once wrote, “Children are the seed for peace or violence in the future, depending on how they are cared for and stimulated. Thus, their family and community environment must be sown to grow a fairer and more fraternal world, a world to serve life and hope.”

The next generation of Americans will inherit leadership of our great nation. We need them to understand their responsibility if America is to remain the land of the free. So let’s welcome our students’ passion, and let us also arm them with an understanding of the importance of liberty.