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 Stanley Surratt Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:57 posted by Stanley Surratt

      The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are timeless. As a former Army Officer, I took an oath to protect and defend the CONSTITUTION from all enemies, foreign or domestic. I speak out today to defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights EXACTLY AS WRITTEN!

    • Comment Link Smokey Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:56 posted by Smokey

      I don't know why we even have this debate anymore. The Constitution stands. We will not surrender our weapons, and there is no military force on earth large enough to take them away against our will. Dead issue.

    • Comment Link Jeremy Vance Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:56 posted by Jeremy Vance

      The 2nd amendment is not about the right to "self defense" from criminals. It is merely a benefit / perk.

      Being able to keep and bear arms is the right of free men. Only slaves and serfs are prohibited from the right to assemble, bear arms, and be secure in their homes.

      Those that would trade their liberty for security deserve neither. If you do not know who said that, then you need to go and spend some time reading the writings of our founding fathers; however, that would probably stipulate you know how to read cursive.

      The regulation in "well regulated militia" refers to the drill regulations of the time for the linear tactics then used on the 18th century battlefield. Patriots today should be standing to on the green with their AR-15s and practicing the contents of FM 7-8 ( vs sitting at home watching the Batchelor and Honey Boo Boo.

    • Comment Link Chris Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:50 posted by Chris

      The founders of our nation agreed on the 10 basic rights that every citizen has. They all agreed on them, it wasn't a split vote, it was unanimous, and throughout history it remained so only until very recently.

      The right for every citizen to keep and bear arms without any restriction was put in place based on a theory that an oppressive regime could not reform if this were the case.

      The idea was for everyone to be on equal terms, equal ground, equal freedoms. Not one class ruling the rest, and eventually stripping freedoms away from the less fortunate.

      Well in todays society we are living in a very dangerous time. Now we do have split votes concerning our basic freedoms. We have a lot of ignorant and easily molded men and women usurping our nation and presiding within seats of tremendous power and influence within our nation.

      What was once a public office has now become a career choice, showered with gifts from lobbyists that serve to advance the cause of the mega businesses that they work for.

      Just keep in mind... your freedom comes from God, not from government, not from any human. Its not a gift, its something you were born with. And if they say that you no longer have a freedom that you once enjoyed... it isnt that you no longer have it, its that a group of people are simply threatening you with imprisonment or death if you choose to exercise it.

      The choice of what to do after that, still remains, all yours.

      God Bless America

      "Absolute power corrupts Absolutely"

    • Comment Link Carl Stevenson Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:48 posted by Carl Stevenson

      There was far less crime when firearms ownership, and carrying a gun openly, was commonplace and didn’t cause a stir of indignation from a bunch of wusses who are too afraid of their own shadow to even contemplate taking responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their families and communities.
      The government loves that “the government will protect me” attitude … It’s the source of tremendous power for the politicians and their agents.
      Look at the militarization of our police departments and the growth of the new Gestapo known as DHS.
      Look at the FBI and BATF’s assassination of Randy Weaver’s wife and son at Ruby Ridge and their assassination of about 80 innocent men, women and children at Waco … Study those events and you will see that they were murderd by government agents who not only walked free with no punishment, but were actually commended and promoted as a reward when the dust settled after the cover ups.
      We don’t need more Gestapo, we need for people to get over their irrational fear of weapons of self-defense (a fear that is being indoctrinated into our children in those government indoctrination centers known as public schools … research that on the Internet too).
      People need to realize that, as Ronald Reagan said, “(More) government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem,” and as George Washinton said, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
      Protect our right to SELF-defense, take personal responsibility, and stop the cancerous growth of ever tyrannical government power.

    • Comment Link Willliam Buck Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:42 posted by Willliam Buck

      Leave the constitution alone. It has served us well for over 200 years.

    • Comment Link albert Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:41 posted by albert

      I cant say it enough times don't tread on me I will not ever give up my guns I will die keeping them if our government is prepared to die trying to take them you have my address

    • Comment Link Jeff Dege Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:39 posted by Jeff Dege

      Why can't there be a middle ground?

      This whole discussion is warped by the anti-gunners confused idea about what "compromise" means. To them, it means they get some of what they want now, and more of what they want later, and the gun owners get to lose their rights slowly, instead of quickly.

      A true compromise is where both sides give up something, and both sides get something.

      There is a middle ground - it's called shall-issue permitting. We require a permit for someone to carry a firearm, but issue those permits according to objective standards. This is the real compromise, and it's proven a very popular one.

      Since the idea was first introduced in Florida in 1988, states have, one-by-one, introduced legislation to establish non-discretionary permitting systems. Currently, ordinary citizens can obtain permits, not subject to the whims of arbitrary discretion, in 42 states. (In 1987, it was 9.)

    • Comment Link Kathy Hubbard Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:33 posted by Kathy Hubbard

      Against ! I'm 65 and I have seen our police force unable to responde to crime in a timely manner any longer. We must have the right to protect ourselves. Also in at this time we have the right and duty to protect ourselves from our own government. There are laws on the books all over this country that the police can not enforce against those that have illegal guns and commit crimes. And you want to trust that government & the police to think they can control crime if the lawful citizen is disarmed? Your nuts using that logic!

    • Comment Link James A. Ritchie Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:31 posted by James A. Ritchie

      We do not have a Constitutional right to bear arms. This notion assumes that the Constitution actually gives us this right. It does not. All the Constitution does is affirm an inherent right that we already have. Just as with slavery, free speech, etc., the right to bear arms is one than can be repressed by an evil government, but that still exists, even if the law says we have no rights.

      Slavery is evil, regardless of what the government says about it, regardless of any laws that pass saying slavery is acceptable. The right to bear arms is all that protects us from an out of control government, and even from an evil majority who may vote to approve slavery, to deny free speech, etc.

      This inherent right is not up for debate, any more than slavery and free speech are up for debate. Talk all you like, but understand that rights are inherent, and that we will not surrender our right to bear arms, anymore than we will surrender our right to free speech, or submit to slavery, whatever any group of people say, regardless of what laws pass, and regardless of polls, numbers, or anything else.

    • Comment Link John Patriot Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:28 posted by John Patriot

      Anyone who attempts to touch our firearms rights is guilty of treason against the constitution. The words "shall not be infringed" mean DON'T ATTEMPT IT COMMUNISTS! My rights keep your asses safe. My rights keep my family, myself, and above all my country safe from tyranny and slavery. I will never give up my guns, I will defend my firearms rights with bloody violence if I must. Without my gun rights I am just another number in a concentration camp... To those who oppose guns: If you don't like guns, don't buy one. Realize that guy who has a gun on his hip will protect your family in the event of an active shooter.. didn't think of that did ya? The tyrannical government is trying to outlaw guns so they can force the American people to do what we are told with no means to stop it. If you're all for gun control, move to a country where they have outlawed guns. When you get there I'd suggest you wear a bullet proof vest because gun violence runs rampant in those places. This is not a debate for the ignorant. Our guns keep America free, if you don't like that well tough sh*t! I love my freedom, I love my country, and I love my family. With that said, If guns are outlawed, I will become an outlaw because I know that NOBODY has the power to outlaw my GOD GIVEN RIGHTS!

    • Comment Link Will Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:26 posted by Will

      Personal security is certainly not outdated. The police are NOT there for your protection. If you call them when you witness a crime (against you or someone else) 9 times out of 10 the crime is over by the time they arrive and they aren't "protecting" squat. They clean up the mess by coordinating other emergency services and trying to bring the perpetrators to justice, but they can't "protect" you. YOU have to do that. As long as that stays how it is, firearms in the hands of law abiding citizens will be necessary. End of story.

    • Comment Link Carl Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:26 posted by Carl

      Strongly opposed. The individual right to bear arms for protection is a fundamental human right as important if not more so than freedom of speech.

    • Comment Link Lin0da Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:23 posted by Lin0da

      We need to have the right to bear arms to keep the good people safe. the bad people will get their guns no matter what.

    • Comment Link Gecko Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:20 posted by Gecko

      Just look at the voting numbers... Nuff said. The only people arguing for gun control are the people dumb enough to believe the media when they say "most people support this." Learn to think for yourself and get more informed.

    • Comment Link Mary Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:19 posted by Mary

      Although I have no way of knowing, I surmise that the majority of comments here championing a citizen's right to own and shoot with a gun were written by people who believe in the bible and attend church services. And so I offer to them the following: THOU SHALT NOT KILL.

    • Comment Link Jon Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:18 posted by Jon

      The rights in the Constitution derive from natural law and the Creator, and the Bill of Rights is merely an observation of those natural rights. A bunch of politicians deciding to change the layout doesn't eliminate any of those rights and enough of the citizens understand that.

    • Comment Link Fletcher Pastore Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:15 posted by Fletcher Pastore

      When we lose the 2nd amendment our republic dies !

    • Comment Link Ryan Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:14 posted by Ryan

      This debate is exactly why we have a second amendment or the other 9 in the bill of rights for that matter. The founding fathers KNEW that there would be attempts to disarm the populace so they wanted to make it absolutely clear that we have a right to keep and bear arms.

      And nobody says that you have to like the rights of others, nor that they exercise it. The first amendment for example was designed to protect OFFENSIVE speech. The second was designed to act as a firewall between people in power offended by firearms and those who own them.

    • Comment Link l0b0t Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:09 posted by l0b0t

      Can we please put to death this ridiculous trope that the Founding Father's generation "only had muskets"? This claim is pernicious, hoplophobic propaganda that flies in the face of the historical record. Rifled barrels were in use by 1520 (with primitive examples dating back to the late 1400s) a full 350 years before the 2nd Amendment was penned. The American revolution was won with the Kentucky Rifle, not with muskets. Hell, the first machine gun, the Puckle Gun (an autocannon invented by James Puckle), was patented in 1718.

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