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 Dallas Neumiller Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:04 posted by Dallas Neumiller

      We need personal firearms now more than ever, thanks to slower police reaction times and the proliferation of crime.

    • Comment Link cindy deaton Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:04 posted by cindy deaton

      No, I do not agree, we have the right to bear arms,

    • Comment Link Daniel Harrigan Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:04 posted by Daniel Harrigan

      You Progressives love to yell about Obamacare, "It's the law of the Land." The 2nd Amendment has been the law of the land since the 18th Century. Get over it! The only way you get any firearms away from me is when they are completely empty! Self Preservation is a God given right. No government has jurisdiction over natural God given rights,period! The 2nd amendment was devised to keep a future government who gets too oppressive, corrupt, tyrannical, starts to infringe on my right to self determination in check. Sound familiar?? I might lose, but I'll at least will have a fighting chance to keep my freedom. Molon Labe!!

    • Comment Link Steve Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:02 posted by Steve

      Aside from the sheer silliness of this proposition, the best argument for public ownership of firearms is the tired, trite, and true . . . . . "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

    • Comment Link Jerry Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:02 posted by Jerry

      "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." - Why would the 2nd Amendment have become less appropriate when the murder rate in the U.S. has been in steady decline?

      "When the practical consequences of a right becomes counterproductive to society, it has outlived its usefulness." - This has not happened, and we should not abolish the codification of a natural right based on a highly flawed and debatable assertion. What is counterproductive to society are societal norms and government policies that breed crime.

      "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." - The standing army cannot, by law, be used for law enforcement, nor would we want it to. Our "well-trained" police are increasingly militarized, and are increasingly turning minor incidents into bloodbaths. In addition, the police have no constitutional or other legal obligations to protect citizens and cannot be sued for failing to do so. They seldom prevent violent crime - mostly they investigate the crime after the fact.

      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. - Our rights, and human nature, have not changed. To give up our "stubborn allegiance to the constitution [sic] is to give up being a nation of laws in favor of a nation of men.

      Technological advancements have created guns with capabilities far beyond those envisioned in 1789, and the Second Amendment is not capable of regulating such arms. - One could easily make the same argument about the First Amendment and say that it only applies to white men in breeches, stockings and tricorn hats operating a hand-cranked printing press. Imagine the harm that occurs when a dangerous and incorrect idea makes its way around the world in mere seconds, thanks to the internet.

    • Comment Link Ryan Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:02 posted by Ryan

      Last I checked, this wasn't up for debate. Perhaps we should have a discussion next about whether or not the 1st has outlived its usefulness. We've already lost the 4th, so why not?!

    • Comment Link Brian Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:02 posted by Brian

      Governments job is to control, peoples job is to keep as much freedom they believe they are endowed. If you want to be helpless, defenseless, and unable to provide for yourself and your family. . By all means give up your rights!
      If you like me believe in liberty and freedom. Then you will do what is lawful and right to ensure we have it.

    • Comment Link Wayne J Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:01 posted by Wayne J

      The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right for U.S. citizens to bear arms. Let me tell you that I abhor the violence seen on the news about shootings in public places. But it is the people using the guns we should address, not across the board gun control. 95% of Americans who own guns are responsible, law abiding citizens. I don't know about you, but I sleep better at night knowing I have access to one. When a burglar breaks into your home and tries to cause bodily harm or even kill you or your family, wouldn't you want to protect them? No time to call 911 when they are at your throat.

    • Comment Link Me Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:00 posted by Me

      Hey Mike, who would you consider the privileged ones allowed to bear arms?

    • Comment Link withheld user Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:00 posted by withheld user

      When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty... Google this..... This argument is an epic fail. Learn from history or be doomed to repeat it...

    • Comment Link Jack Inman Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:00 posted by Jack Inman

      If they can get rid of the 2nd amendment, the can get rid of all of the Bill Of Rights

    • Comment Link Steve Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:58 posted by Steve

      LOL, I have not laughed this hard is such a very long time. Thank you so much for having the courage to ask such a stupid question. I bet you have more breakthroughs than a cheap roll of single ply toilet paper.

    • Comment Link Edward Snowdens gun dealer Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:57 posted by Edward Snowdens gun dealer

      This "debate" has outlived its usefulness. Only liberal idiots refuse to accept the importance and need of appropriate checks and balances, as well as the never-more-critical need to defend one's self against an over-reaching, abusive government. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • Comment Link Deborah Holter Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:57 posted by Deborah Holter

      In England, South Africa, Australia and NAZI GERMANY the governments slowly whittled away at the peoples rights, esp the right to bear arms. The people frittered away their rights, then the government registered the guns, and then they confiscated them. My Constitutional Rights are essential to me. Guns save lives. Guns have saved my life.

    • Comment Link Steve Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:56 posted by Steve

      "Technological advancements have created guns with capabilities far beyond those envisioned in 1789, and the Second Amendment is not capable of regulating such arms."

      Really? Does free speech apply only to what we write on parchment? Have modern means of communicating invalidated the First Amendment? I don't bloody think so! Ditto the Second!

      More guns, less crime. The data (worldwide) prove it to be so:

    • Comment Link Shawn lemes Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:55 posted by Shawn lemes

      I agree outlaw guns I will be an outlaw too!!!!!!!!

    • Comment Link Dave Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:55 posted by Dave

      Every one of you pro-gun jags is responsible for the lax laws that allow nuts, all you included, to carry deadly weapons with almost no restrictions. Every time a small child, battered spouse or innocent bystander or school of kids or whoever gets gun downed, you jags are largely responsible. Why fight tighter background checks unless you have something to hide? Why not make it as tough as possible on the straw purchase buyers and traffickers?

    • Comment Link John Carroll Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:55 posted by John Carroll

      Where do I stand? Firmly against the motion. Any organization can be more productive in reducing violence in America by investigating, and supporting treatment of mental health in this country. If they spent half as much on treating mental illness as they do trying to outlaw guns, violence would drop substantially. Makes me wonder exactly what their objective really is. Reducing violence or taking away our guns.

    • Comment Link Ben Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:54 posted by Ben

      To say that the 2nd amendment has outlived its usefulness is to ignore glaring historical examples (Nazi Gun registration leading to confiscation, and yes the Nazi's were voted in so it was done democratically) and modern examples (the U.K. and Australia have seen INCREASES in violent crime since their gun confiscations and bans.) that show that gun control hasn't nor will it ever work. If that were the case then theoretically Chicago, D.C. and LA would the safest cities, not the most crime ridden.They say we have a standing Army (which tyrannical regimes like the British one we overthrew, use to oppress the people) and police force (supreme court case Warren v D.C. states that the police DO NOT have a legal obligation to protect you) to protect us but in all reality that isn't their prerogative. Also, the 2nd amendment isn't referring to just a "well regulated militia" (Heller v D.C. and McDonald v Chicago read Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion on both) because if they were why did they differentiate the two several times in the constitution? Even so, the national guard can be federalized and as such isn't considered a militia and even so they weren't solely referring to that (read Federalist Paper #46). For those who say the Federalist papers don't apply obviously don't understand how the supreme court USES the Federalist Papers to discern the intent of the framers). Lastly, to deny one the right to protect themselves with whatever weapon they see fit is to deny them there right to self defense entirely (which btw is upheld in Warren v D.C. that self defense is YOUR responsibility). No matter which way you slice it it boils down to this very basic argument, a gun ban makes the assumption that A) Criminals will become law-abiding B) Human beings won't figure out ways to circumvent such bans (black market smuggling and making guns from scratch which is pretty easy for anyone with any machining skills and mechanical know-how) C) that such bans are enforceable in a well armed society. The very things that started the war for independence was the British coming to seize the powder and the canons. What makes anyone think that vein of revolution doesn't still run through most Americans? Remember, we are nation of immigrants (except for Native Americans whom by the way were victims of Genocide because they were outgunned) and for the most part our ancestors were the misfits and rebels within their own countries to expect less is to ignore history. I have yet in my 3 years of studying and writing on this issue to find anyone with a compelling and cohesive argument that can stand up to a good and through examination. Their are often phony and misleading stats or making the argument based on an emotional appeal. Making are argument based on "It's for the children!" is weak, cowardly, and only proves you have no real information to muster. I dare someone to try me and please don't use my few grammatical errors to say I am not qualified to say anything because I doubt anyone here could type to this length without grammar check and do better without taking forever which I don't have.

    • Comment Link Mark Scott Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:54 posted by Mark Scott

      I am a retired soldier with 27 plus years of dedicated service to this nation. I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. This is the same oath that the president and other officials swear to. Our founding fathers very carefully crafted a document and bill of rights that are timeless, regardless of technology.
      It sickens me to the core to hear any half witted argument on gun control. I have seen it said many times in other comments here, gun restrictions WILL NOT take weapons from criminals, only law abiding citizens. A weapon is nothing more than a tool, it takes a person, good or evil to use it. Your bleeding heart arguments are centered around the evil that people do. There are many more stories of good people stopping crime and horrendous evil by having one of these tools.
      Yes, I am a gun owner, I will not give my weapons up. It is your right to buy weapons or not, however throughout history there has never been a good outcome to gun control. I PREFER DANGEROUS FREEDOM OVER PEACEFUL SLAVERY!!

    Leave a comment

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