The Constitutional Right To Bear Arms Has Outlived Its Usefulness

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Illustration by Thomas James

Thursday, November 14, 2013

“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?

  • Alan-Dershowitz


    Alan Dershowitz

    Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

  • levinson sanford  90pix


    Sanford Levinson

    Professor of Law and of Government, University of Texas

  • Kopel official 90


    David Kopel

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

  • volokh eugene90


    Eugene Volokh

    Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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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 lawyer” and one of its “most distinguished defenders of individual rights.” He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School and joined the Harvard Law Faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. He has published more than 1,000 articles in magazines, newspapers, journals and blogs such as The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal and Huffington Post. Dershowitz is the author of numerous bestselling books, and his autobiography, Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law, was recently published by Crown.

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levinson sanford  90pix

For The Motion

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 in 1980. Previously a member of the Department of Politics at Princeton University, he is also a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas. The author of over 350 articles and book reviews in professional and popular journals--and a regular contributor to the popular blog Balkinization--Levinson is also the author of four books, most recently, Framed: America's 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (2012). He has edited or co-edited numerous books, including a leading constitutional law casebook Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking (5th ed. 2006). He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association in 2010.

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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, D.C. He is also an adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University, Sturm College of Law. In 1999 he served as an adjunct professor of law at New York University. He is the author of 16 books and 85 scholarly articles, on topics such as antitrust, constitutional law, counter-terrorism, environmental law, intellectual history, and police practices. His most recent book is Firearms Law and the Second Amendment (2012), the first law school textbook on the subject. Kopel was a member of the Supreme Court oral argument team in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). His Heller and McDonald amicus briefs for a coalition of law enforcement organizations were cited by Justices Alito, Breyer, and Stevens. The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has lauded his scholarship as showing the proper model of the “originalist interpretive method as applied to the Second Amendment.” He is currently representing 55 Colorado Sheriffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit against anti-gun bills passed by the legislature in March 2013.

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Against The Motion

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 on firearms regulation policy. Before coming to UCLA, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and for Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. Volokh is the author of two textbooks and over 70 law review articles; four of his articles on the Second Amendment have been cited by Supreme Court opinions, as well as by over two dozen opinions from other courts. Volokh is a member of The American Law Institute, a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, the founder and coauthor of the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, and an Academic Affiliate for the Mayer Brown LLP law firm.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

71% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (58% voted FOR twice, 12% voted AGAINST twice, 1% voted UNDECIDED twice). 29% changed their minds (4% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 2% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 5% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 1% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 11% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 6% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST). Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Steve Allen Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:31 posted by Steve Allen

      Our Colonial forefathers were victorious over the tyranny of the British because they had comparable weapons. If they had been relegated to "bows and arrows" only, America would have never existed. The intent of the 2nd Amendment was to prevent our subjugation to a tyrannical government - prevented by the armed strength of the people. "Of The People".....that rings true throughout the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. All Americans enjoy the freedoms of the Bill of Rights and those freedoms are ensured by the 2nd Amendment - America's original Homeland Security.

    • Comment Link Justin W. Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:31 posted by Justin W.

      The Right to Bear Arms, in its definition a non-negotiable amendment to the constitution.

      By its definition, lets think about that for a minute. As it exists it is a fixed value, non-variable, protected right. Not gifted but protected by our constitution.

      It does not define which weapons, merely arms. So by its definition we have a natural protected right to defend our selves from anyone who would exert unwanted influence over our lives by whatever arms we deem necessary. We as individuals, not any other existence.

      The issues with our rights began when all three branches deemed it a worth pursuit to regulate a constitutional right through legislation. Let me make this clear, any law attempting to overrule a constitutional amendment is illegal. We as citizens have a right and duty to disobey any said law. It does not matter if all three branches say that a law overrules an amendment and commands us to obey. Such a law in its essence is and will always be illegal.

      If the 2nd Amendment were to be even considered outdated, then it would have to be removed by another amendment. Meaning a super-majority vote in both legislative houses, signed by the standing president and verified by the judicial review. No easy task at all, so its much easier to coerce the nation into believing that they must obey such illegal laws.

    • Comment Link Steve Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:31 posted by Steve

      May I be so bold to proclaim that it is totally irresponsible NOT to own a gun? When you wake up in the middle of the night to glass breaking, doors being kicked in and your dog(s) barking, what will you do to protect yourself and family? Grab the nightstand lamp and confront the intruder(s) with that?
      Police don't stop crimes like this. They show up after the fact and do an investigation sometimes involving drawing chalk lines on the floor. Whether you have a gun or not can be the difference of who's body the chalk line is drawn around.
      Also, getting to my point about being irresponsible for not owning a gun, if I own a gun and I hear a disturbance in my neighbors(your) house, I will go over there with my gun knowing that you don't have one and refuse to own one. When(if) that happens, you put MY life at risk by trying to do the right thing. protecting you, because you don't want a gun.
      Buy a gun, learn how to safely use it, and join the NRA.

      It's your, and your family's life at stake.

    • Comment Link TexasSAM Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:30 posted by TexasSAM

      The police force of this country can not nor has it protected the populace from the designs of men with evil intent.Just look about our country at all the people that needed an officer where was the cop when the lady was raped a few seconds ago where were they when the child was beaten to death or the husband robbed and killed while trying to return home to his family? AND WHAT PART OF SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED DO PEOPLE NOT UNDER STAND
      The second amendment is not out dated it is the only amendment that guards the others

    • Comment Link Lee Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:29 posted by Lee

      Look at England, they actually agree that gun control does not actualy work. The way it works in the UK is however they decide the numbers must look.

    • Comment Link Scott Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:29 posted by Scott

      The most dangerous city's in USA to live in, most gun violence, are those city's with the strictest gun laws.

    • Comment Link Hubert Bent Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:29 posted by Hubert Bent

      I have lived in this Country all of my life. I served my Country so we could be free and to keep our Constitutional Rights intact. This Country was form on Religion and our freedom. Taking the constitution apart is wrong it was put in Place to protect us from slime like our Government has running it now. This is why this is happening it is a move to put Communism in place in this Country and it is wrong. I did not serve my Country to watch some creep tear it apart he has Broken so many laws it is a wonder this Country hasn't gone to war with it self. Weapons of any kind DO NOT KILL. PEOPLE KILL AND UNTIL YOU START PUNISHING THESE PEOPLE IT WILL CONTINUE TO HAPPEN. Reinstate Capital Punishment and allow one appeal if it does not go then strait to the chair or lethal injection or hang them . Just get it done. Yes there will be people that are not Guilty that will suffer but it has to happen and with all of the technology we have today it would be few.

    • Comment Link Andy Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:28 posted by Andy

      All I have to say is this. I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of these united states. You want to violate that constitution, you are my enemy and as my enemy you will pay the ultimate price for that treason.


    • Comment Link WallyR Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:28 posted by WallyR

      What part of "Shall not be infringed..." do you not understand?

    • Comment Link Mark Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:28 posted by Mark

      The police, national guard, FBI, homeland security, and all other law enforcement agencies main purpose for carrying a gun is not to protect the citizens, it's to protect themselves.

    • Comment Link Jason Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:27 posted by Jason

      I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6!!!

    • Comment Link Mark Hagerman Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:26 posted by Mark Hagerman

      It's incorrect to use the phrase "Constitutional Right to Bear Arms". The second amendment doesn't grant a right; it recognizes a pre-existing natural right which a people possess. And it can *never* be obsolete.

    • Comment Link David Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:25 posted by David

      The debate was ended in 1787.. The founders affirmed the right to bare arms as a natural right to self defense and preservation of liberty.

    • Comment Link Bill Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:24 posted by Bill

      The Constitution of the United States established a government with a four point check and balance system. It created three points by dividing the government into three branches. The executive, the legislative, and the judicial branch. The fourth point of the system was the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which created an armed citizenry that could use force to reinstitute the Constitution whenever tyrants broke from the law of this land. We the People, do not serve the will of the United States government. The United States government was created to serve the will of the people.

    • Comment Link Aldirick Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:21 posted by Aldirick

      The right to bear arms was first intended to serve as a means of having a fighting force of the people for the country. It was originally intended for the states to have militias that would defend the states and the federal government. Upon the formation of the organizations in the federal government known as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp and the Coast Guard, that need is no longer there. With any government, especially one created by usurping its predecessor, the people will not, cannot, trust it with their rights of property and self defense. We are constantly seeing in this world, from the police to our military, nothing more than a reactionary action unit. But that is what we want, if the police, FBI and military become preemptive to us and other entities, we will fear them. Then our only defense will be the government stopping them, or us as citizens revolting against an oppressive government. I make this statement as a warning, not as a call to action.

    • Comment Link patriotme Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:21 posted by patriotme

      The proponents for this motion have flipped and live in a dangerous, delusional world. They know not of our country's history, nor of world history. The right to bear arms is a constitutional right, an INDIVIDUAL RIGHT. Discussions/polls such as these are beyond ignorant, they are anti-American. You don't use one constitutional right (freedom of speech) to attack another constitutional right (right to bear arms). Ridiculous! Traitorous!

    • Comment Link Scott Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Scott

      Supreme Court ruled police have no duty to protect. Your argument that we have police to protect us "now" is invalid.

    • Comment Link Troy Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Troy

      97% against, not much debate needed.

    • Comment Link Ben Purdy Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Ben Purdy

      By that logic women's right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, and the right against unlawful search and seizure have outlived their usefulness as well. Guns aren't all about sport. They are about defending yourself and your family. One final thought, when attacked a person with asthma can't run, they cant use pepper spray either, but they can pick up a gun.

    • Comment Link Scott Tomkins Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:19 posted by Scott Tomkins

      This site has outlive its usefulness. Guns are our defense against people like this site!

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