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 Elia Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:24 posted by Elia

      I am bone tired of men like Dershowitz and Levinson who think a 118 lb. woman should have to face her 250 lb. would-be rapist unarmed. Force is an unavoidable part of life. It is beyond ignorant to pretend that people misuse force to get what they want from those who are weaker or more vulnerable. Fortunately, we have force equalizers called firearms, which enable people like me to avoid almost certain bodily injury or death in a confrontation.

      Besides, deep in their hearts these wealthy, privileged "progressives" know force must be met with force. That's why they hide behind their armed guards in their rich, white enclaves. How dare they lecture us?

    • Comment Link Sally Vancil Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:18 posted by Sally Vancil

      The constitution protects a free society. Nullification of the right to bear arms leaves society at the mercy of those who wish to dominate us. If you don't like our constitution then get the hell out of this country. This is not even up for discussion.

    • Comment Link tom Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:18 posted by tom

      there isnt a choice for middle ground because the second amendment as written doesnt allow for middle ground. the words "shall not be infringed" do not allow for middle ground. The gun rights are already being "infringed" if you ask me with these waste of time regulations and laws. No criminal is out there going "Gee...i should really follow this regulation cause if i dont, i could go to jail." you know why they arent thinking that? Ahhh it's because they are criminals! And thats right...criminals have always followed every rule and regulation that your gracious progressive liberals have put into place isnt that right?

      Personally if it were up too me, we would remove both(democrats and republicans) political parties, as they are both corrupt and not following the voice of the people set up term limits for EVERY office and permanent term limits for politicians.

    • Comment Link sandra spinniken Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:16 posted by sandra spinniken

      Do not mess with our constitution. Leave our right to bear arms alone.

    • Comment Link Dredd Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:14 posted by Dredd

      Peter Sky said; "There is no way that 300 million guns could be confiscated, but also no rational basis for avoiding a national gun registry."

      You do realize that your statement contradicts itself, don't you? The ONLY way to confiscate ANY amount of guns is to REGISTER them!

      Of course, that's the plan, isn't it?

    • Comment Link JC Hall Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:12 posted by JC Hall

      Mao said, "All power comes from the barrel of a gun." When the only guns are held by the government, you are a subject and a slave to that government. When you carry arms, you are a citizen.

    • Comment Link Eric T Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:11 posted by Eric T

      The Second Amendment defines a civil right. If my fellow citizens amend the Constitution to repeal the second amendment then so be it. Until then any attempt to threaten my person or violate my civil right may be resisted with appropriate force. God bless the wisdom of our founding fathers.

    • Comment Link Jerry Barbour Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:09 posted by Jerry Barbour

      Before we outlaw guns, there are many other things that kill many more people. (Actually, guns don't kill anyone, people do). Let's start by outlawing automobiles and trucks. Check out how many people are killed by them. Let's outlaw sports, like football, soccer, golf. People die playing these games. For Gods sake, outlaw them. As for the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution, it was written by some very smart men. They knew that the amendment would only be needed, when the government tried to take it away from us. Like the Obama administration is trying to do today. What we need to do away with is, the morons in Washington, DC that are trying to turn our government into a socialist government. Socialism does not work. Never has. Never will. Just ask any Russian. So, leave my Constitution alone, or leave my country.

    • Comment Link Tank Charmcity Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:09 posted by Tank Charmcity

      I'm so sick of Democrats trying to say they are protecting our democracy. We are not a Democracy we are a Constitutional Republic. The only part of our system that is a Democracy is voting, nothing else. The Constitution Guarantees my right to say what I want to say, Vote how I want to vote, Pray to whom ever I wish and it also gives me the right to Bear Arms to defend myself and family from those who wish to take them away. LMAO who do these Clown Democrats think are gonna come take my guns? HaHaHa going by what they say, they don't even have Arms, so how you gonna take mine? I can promise they won't go willingly and who ever come to clean up the mess better have some gloves cause they're gonna be HOT!!!

    • Comment Link Dredd Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:09 posted by Dredd

      Barkley is not aware of what the word "civilized" means. He doesn't even know the difference between a "citizen" and a "subject", so the fact that the Bill of rights cannot be repealed must be a complete mystery to him as well. If he thinks that it can, he should go ahead and try it instead of whining about it online.

      If Barkley's ignorance of Constitutional Law is as bad as his ignorance of the 2nd Amendment, he has destroyed his own argument before he has even presented it. Typical for the defenders of socialism these days...

    • Comment Link Tony G Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:08 posted by Tony G

      We need to defend ourselves from idiots in office.

    • Comment Link gary Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:04 posted by gary

      The Constitution is not a plaything for revisionist socialists. It is set in concrete. Inviolate, unmovable and the foundation of our freedoms. Let these idiots mess with it and we'll soon be no better than Russia or China.

    • Comment Link Charles Wednesday, 13 November 2013 23:00 posted by Charles

      The 2nd Amendment isn't about nor should it be effected by gun violence, that is a law enforcement issue. The 2nd Amendment is about being the check for a tyrannical government and making sure that there are abled bodied persons to defend the country.

    • Comment Link Josh Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:58 posted by Josh

      Let's taking a logical approach by doing a little math, taking numbers from the website:

      310 million people lived in the US in 2011.
      Approx. 300 million firearms are owned in the US.
      1.2 million violent crimes occurred in the 2011 year, translating to 0.04% of the US population.
      With 8,653 resulting in a homicide by firearm, that's 0.07% of the 1.2 million violent crimes.

      To really grasp how much of a problem gun crime is, or isn't, we can look at the numbers above which show that gun homicides account for less than 0.0003% of our population.

      Meaning that 99.9% of the 300 million firearms are NOT being used to murder people.

      To me that doesn't portray so much of a gun problem as the media seems to indicate.


    • Comment Link Nun Ur Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:53 posted by Nun Ur

      Now more than ever, we need the 2nd.

    • Comment Link Greg Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:53 posted by Greg

      Jack McCoy of Law and Order once said "Man has only those rights he can defend." How can we defend our rights and freedoms without tools to protect them? Are we going to resign ourselves to calling 911 and hiding under a bed? Are we going to become a society where we just let the criminals take whatever they want and ask them to not hurt us? If ending gun ownership made a place safer, why does England have such a problem with violent crime?

      The right to bear arms is an extension of one of the most basic human rights, a right that predates civilization, the right to self defense.

      We have an obligation to do what we can to reduce violence. Notice I say violence, because we can't just focus on gun violence. England has lower gun violence, but not lower rates of violent crime. Reducing violence means putting criminals in jail, it means keeping them there until they are ready to be released, and getting serious about not letting them out. A student is being kicked out of college for defending himself against a 6 time felon. Why does no politician talk about why a 6 time felon is on the streets?

      We have an obligation to do something about mental health. We need to reduce the stigma of it and help people get treatment.

      We have to get serious about school security. If you got upset when the NRA proposed armed guards in schools, I ask, did you get upset when Bill Clinton proposed it?

      We can do things to reduce crime and violence and we should, but removing the right to bear arms does nothing more than create a society where criminals have an upper edge on law abiding citizens, a society of fear, a society where we can do nothing except hide and pray 911 arrives in time. Studies, even CDC studies, have shown that legal, defensive use incidents of guns number into the millions. Take away the gun, and how many of those people who be robbery victims, rape victims, or dead. Of course they don't make the news, but they are out there. It is their blood on the hands of those who ban guns.

    • Comment Link Eric Q. Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:51 posted by Eric Q.

      The right to keep and bare arms...does not change because technology changes...if that were the case..then Cell phones and Computers are not protected under the First Amendment, because the founding fathers never could have seen those either.

    • Comment Link patrick Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:49 posted by patrick

      I have read a few of the comments and it is disturbing how some people still believe that imposing gun laws that are more strict than we have now will end the gun violence. It escapes me how a person like this has a voice in our eletoral process. Simple common sense tells us (with facts to back ot up) that it is idiotic to brlieve such crap.
      Chicago, Ill where it was illegal to possess a firearm unless for transport to your hunting ground and absolutely no handguns unless law enforcement or security guards and they have by far thw worst gun crime per capita than any other state in the union more US citizens died in Chicago than Iraq. Several years running . So tell me exactly what gun control does aside from create defenseless victims

    • Comment Link Marcin Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:47 posted by Marcin

      it will truly outlive its purpose when the governments and the criminals (wait, that's the same thing) of the world choose to disarm first.

    • Comment Link Justin fortney Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:47 posted by Justin fortney


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