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The Constitutional Right To Bear Arms Has Outlived Its Usefulness

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  • Constitutional Contradictions?

    Clip: Sanford Levinson, David Kopel, Alan Dershowitz, and Eugene Volokh respond to a question regarding the constitutional rights of citizens to bear arms against government versus the constitutional provision to suppress insurrection.

  • What Is a "Well-Regulated Militia"?

    Clip: Eugene Volokh and Alan Dershowitz spar over the meaning of the "well-regulated militia" clause of the second amendment and it's modern applications.

Debate Details

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” –2nd Amendment

Recent mass shooting tragedies have renewed the national debate over the 2nd Amendment. Gun ownership and homicide rates are higher in the U.S. than in any other developed nation, but gun violence has decreased over the last two decades even as gun ownership may be increasing. Over 200 years have passed since James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, the country has changed, and so have its guns. Is the right to bear arms now at odds with the common good, or is it as necessary today as it was in 1789?

The Debaters

For the motion

Alan Dershowitz

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties... Read More

Sanford Levinson

Professor of Law and of Government, University of Texas

Sanford Levinson, who holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr., Centennial Chair in Law, joined the University of Texas Law School... Read More

Against the motion

David Kopel

Research Director, Independence Institute & Associate Policy Analyst, Cato Institute

David B. Kopel is the research director of the Independence Institute, in Denver, and is an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute, in Washington... Read More

Eugene Volokh

Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

Eugene Volokh teaches First Amendment law and tort law at UCLA School of Law, where he has also taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The social costs of widespread firearm distribution—foremost, the high murder rate in the U.S.—outweigh whatever degree of liberty gun ownership is seen to protect.
  • When the practical consequences of a right becomes counterproductive to society, it has outlived its usefulness. While armed citizens ensured the security of a free state in 1789, personal guns are no longer a civilian's main protection or democracy's best safeguard. Today, the U.S. has a standing army and a well-trained police force that provide for our security and protection.
  • When the values of society at large have significantly changed, a stubborn allegiance to the constitution should not blind us to the incompatibility of certain tenets with modern society.
  • Technological advancements have created guns with capabilities far beyond those envisioned in 1789, and the Second Amendment is not capable of regulating such arms.
Against The Motion
  • The individual right to bear arms, like free speech and trial by jury, is fundamental to our American identity. It safeguards democracy, guaranteeing that all citizens have power relative to the state and to each other.
  • The Bill of Rights is meant to place certain rights beyond political controversy. Authorizing judges to nullify a constitutionally guaranteed right based on it being "outdated" puts all constitutional liberties in jeopardy.
  • Stricter gun laws do not necessarily decrease crime or prevent mass killings. Criminals will get their hands on guns legally or not, so we should address gun violence as a social and economic issue, rather than a legal one.
  • Technological changes have not rendered other constitutional rights useless over the past two centuries (i.e. the internet and freedom of speech), and the same should hold true for the right to bear arms.

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The Research

The Research

Bearing Arms: Second Amendment

CRS Annotated Constitution
December 31, 1969

Discussion of the Second Amendment and related Supreme Court decisions—United States v. Miller, District of Columbia v. Heller, and McDonald v. Chicago.

Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment

Alan Gura
January 31, 2013

Alan Gura comments on Second Amendment Rights.

Facing the Real Gun Problem

David Cole
June 20, 2013

If proponents of gun control fail to understand or respect the opposing point of view, they may well undermine their own interests in achieving reform.

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