The Constitutional Right To Bear Arms Has Outlived Its Usefulness

Next Debate Previous Debate
2ndAmend WebRed 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

See Results See Full Debate Video Purchase DVD

Read Transcript

Listen to the edited radio broadcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to the unedited radio broadcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Subscribe to the Podcast

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.

Learn more


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.

Learn more

Kopel official 90

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.

Learn more

volokh eugene90

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.

Learn more

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

About This Event

Event Photos

PrevNext Arrows
    PrevNext Arrows


    • Comment Link David Beck-Brown Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:47 posted by David Beck-Brown

      The American Constitution is the only document that separates the USA for other nations. A Russian professor told me so, to daily fall to my knees and kiss our Constitution.

    • Comment Link Patrick Chester Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:43 posted by Patrick Chester

      David declared:
      "All of you gun nuts are morons. Try reading your constitution before talking about it so much. Or perhaps you don't understand the definition of "militia" and "well-regulated"..."

      Perhaps you should try reading and understanding the Constitution since "right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED" is not limited to membership in a militia.


      As for the proposal, I find it interesting that the "For" part presumes that our rights are limited to technology available at the time the Constitution was ratified and that new technology makes those rights somehow obsolete. Leads me to wonder what else is going to be considered "far beyond those considered" back in 1789?

      (Like, oh, I'm not using a quill pen to write this and it will definitely travel across the world faster than horseback or sailing vessel.)

    • Comment Link CLEO Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:13 posted by CLEO

      Against the motion. Who ever thinks all you need to do is dial emergency services for everything in life is purely moronic.

      If you dial for a ambu to arrive, that would take 3-4 minutes, but a victim could be dead in 1, but could be revived and sustained with cpr, wouldn't you do so?

      It takes us more then 4 minutes to arrive to any call ranging from domestic violence to b&e, Local Law Enforcement, can not arrive soon enough to do much. We arrive after a fact. So you must call for us, but there is no vetted guarantee or arrival to put down deadly threats like home invaders, rapist/murders, and so forth. Ask ANY real good cop, and we will tell you. Learn to harden your home, and own a fire arm and practice dearly at the range more then once a month. Take proper security actions to secure your home. I rather have any competent law abiding citizen, owning a fire arm, capable to defend themselves from a single break in, to a handful of gang members, whatever it takes to keep yourself alive, and your loved ones.

      People who often make these kind of sites and or debates seldom deal with the over flow of violent individuals from south of the border, or the threats born and raised everyday in our cities. The fairy tale good life kind of folks who start this kind of initiatives, usually live in cleaner or better areas, and tend to be of elevated seat in elected places. OR, entites from across the nation who live in cleaner safer places. They rarely actually live in crime riddled areas, the likes we call our working AO.

      I pray in fact, that all these useless hindering laws that only impact Law Abiding Citizens, get taken down. And more freedoms are restored to the people. But who am I kidding? This nation which I oathed on two occasions to serve, and protect. Has become something I am disgusted with. "Ruled" by folks with bespoke suits, fancy cars, who live in far off clean neighborhoods, detached and removed from everyday folks for whom this country is made majority wise of.

    • Comment Link Dave Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:11 posted by Dave

      Posted by Mike Barkley Friday, 08 November 2013 03:47

      "Civilized countries allow guns as a privilege, if that, not a right. We need to become civilized"

      If you're looking for a more "civil" society, then you would be better off supporting legislature that requires everyone to carry a sidearm. Much like Feudal Japan, people are more prone to mind their manners, let alone commit violent crimes, for concern of swift and harsh punishment over even the slightest transgression.

      This proves out each time my wife goes shopping without me. People are much more willing to be rude to her, even though she's a lovely, petite, polite, and patient shopper. Yet, when my 6 foot 3 inch, 300 pound self isn't with her, people won't move their carts out of the middle of the isle as quickly (if at all) as when I'm there. Employees tend to glare, or roll their eyes at her when she's alone, but with me there it's all smiles and "yes sir".

      Your Utopian idea for the gun situation is like the ideas that speed limits and driver side airbags are the best way to improve driver safety. Speed limits are about generating revenue, and if Big Brother really wanted people to stop tailgating, texting, eating, etc, and pay attention to the road, they would pull out airbags from the center of the steering wheel, then weld a machete so it sits about two inches from the middle of the drivers chest. THAT will have everyone driving safely, respectfully, and alert at all times.

    • Comment Link Bill Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:44 posted by Bill

      Check your facts, murder by gun is down. The most picked on places are "GUN FREE ZONES" If guns are bad, why did OBAMA administration provide them to CARTELS in "fast and furious" and to his BROTHERHOOD in Syria and Egypt. OH yes, arm them (the terrorists) and disarm us and lets see what happens....

    • Comment Link Paolo Rossi Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:41 posted by Paolo Rossi

      Which part of "Shall not be infringed" is hard to comprehend?

    • Comment Link Dave Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:41 posted by Dave

      A gun no more causes murder and mayhem than a bottle of beer causes alcoholism. It's the human that causes the misuse and makes the choices. Our current legal and punishment system has softened so much that it's less of a deterrent to offenders. We've raised a generation of irresponsible "it's-somebody-elses-fault or some-other-dude-did-it" generation. The Progressive Liberal Socialist Ruling Class wants to disarm all the independent, free-thinking, self-suficient Americans so there is no one left to stand in their way as they dismantle our freedoms and choices one by one.

    • Comment Link randy Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:28 posted by randy

      screw this debate, we need to invoke our right to remove the tyrant with the means our forefather gave us to do so with. the soap box and the ballot box have failed us, all that is left us is the cartridge box. LIVE FREE OR DIE!

    • Comment Link Mark Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:11 posted by Mark

      Over my dead body .. Just let them try !!

    • Comment Link Trish Mansfield Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:53 posted by Trish Mansfield

      I guess what really puzzles me is the argument these people come up with for stronger gun control. US has higher murder rate by guns, that may be true, but really, I think people do not look at the big picture. Do these people really think that this will solve a problem, it will make it worse, we all know that criminals will abide by these rules right? And Other countries won't ship guns here to be bought and sold by gangs and drug cartels right? All they are doing is taking away the law abiding citizen to protect themselves from harm. Shootings will not go down but up because criminals will have free reign. Ask Chicago, they the toughest gun laws in the US and the highest killing rate by guns.

    • Comment Link Michael Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:52 posted by Michael

      This is completely insane. Giving up your right to protect yourself will NEVER help you. I cannot see how anyone can be disillusioned or naïve enough to think otherwise! This march toward totalitarianism MUST BE STOPPED. You honestly think that a government bought by big business will have your best interests at heart? THINK AGAIN! You are nothing but a commodity to them, and you will be a victim if you give up your (and my) rights!

    • Comment Link Dwayne Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:41 posted by Dwayne

      The 2nd Amendment is still as relevant as it ever hand been. If the 2nd Amendment is outdated then so are all the other rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution itself. It is a slippery slope once you begin there is no stop until the crash at the bottom of Slavery. We fought against slavery from 1860-1865. We have men who would place us all back in Chains, and they are calling themselves Democrats, note that the Democrats supported Slavery in 1860 and the Republicans were the political party of Abraham Lincoln. America is being played for fools by a slight of hand of role reversal combined with skin tone.

    • Comment Link Manny Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:31 posted by Manny

      I like how morons always say, let's find the middle ground. We lost the middle ground years ago with laws like National Firearms Act of 34, Federal Firearms Act of 38, Gun Control Act of 68, Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 86 etc, etc.

    • Comment Link Stephen Walsh Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:23 posted by Stephen Walsh

      Ten terrorists armed with automatic rifles and grenades killed 166 and wounded over 300 in Mumbai India in 2008. It took 3 days to end the attack. Why? A disarmed populace.

    • Comment Link Bill Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:58 posted by Bill

      When the practical consequences of a right becomes counterproductive to society, it has outlived its usefulness.
      This would be the RIGHT TO FREE HEALTH CARE...
      Am I right???

    • Comment Link Archie Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:56 posted by Archie

      As David Roberts has posted above ^... I second his thoughts !
      Ironic, when one of the politicians want protection-there's ALWAYS
      someone there that has a gun!
      Well, they'll have to pry my gun out of my dead hand First !!!

    • Comment Link melissa Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:47 posted by melissa

      there is no need to take away the right to bear arms it will not take away the murder rate because the guns are still out there. just because you take away the right does not mean the problems are going to get better you just need to find people to do their jobs better and get the people who are not supposed to have the guns in the first place off the streets allow the people who have a license to keep their guns and use them if necessary to protect them selves. the only reason this is up for discussion is because people dont want to do their jobs and they just want a free hand out.

    • Comment Link Travis Graf Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:46 posted by Travis Graf

      No. Having 100 Senators speaking for 330 Million people is outdated.

    • Comment Link Mark Fonner Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:41 posted by Mark Fonner

      Which part of "Shall not be infringed" do these people not understand?

    • Comment Link Robert Serna Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:40 posted by Robert Serna

      According to the latest Small Arms Survey conducted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the U.S. tops the world in civilian gun ownership. We have 89 guns for ever 100 residents. That’s well above Yemen’s second place rate of 55 guns per 100 and nearly twice the rate of Switzerland which comes in third at 46 guns per 100 residents.

      But, according to information provided by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime and compiled by the Guardian, the answer is an emphatic “No.”

      The U.S. is not the world leader in the homicide-by-firearm rate. It does not even crack the top 25 in that category.

      Instead, the U.S. has the 28th highest homicide by firearm rate of the countries in the report.

      This phenomenon isn’t uniquely American, either. Switzerland, which ranks third in civilian gun ownership rate at 46 guns per 100 residents, has only the 46th highest homicide rate. Finland, which has the fourth most civilian owned guns at 45 guns per 100 residents, is 63rd on the list.

      it also seems that the cities with the harshest gun control laws are the ones with the highest crime and homicide rates. Meanwhile places with very permissive gun laws have less crime and less murder. especially in the 40 states that have "right to carry" CCW laws or "shall issue" laws which means if you meet the minimum requirements (generally no felonies or weapons charges, no drug use and no mental instability) they must issue a CCW. this is opposed by states like my home state of California which has a "may issue" law which means that the issuance of a CCW is "at the discression of the chief law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction. which means the chief of police or county sheriff. it also means that they do not have to issue it if they do not think you have a good enough reason.

      The simple fact is the second amendment protects our right to own and carry weapons. it is an individual right not a collective one and anyone who says different is trying to sell you something. They can't repeal it so they try to chip away at it. because they fear the people. and they should because they forget this is supposed to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. rather than a government of the people by the ruling elite for the rich and powerful.

    Leave a comment

    Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.