Biting the bullet: Panel discusses the issue of guns in America

The Leadership Legacy Experience hosted Triggering Debate: Guns in the US in Konover auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 24. Speakers from left to right: Moderator -UConn Law Associate Dean and Professor Richard Kay. Stephen Halbrook Attorny-at-all and defender of the gun rights side Professor of American History Saul Cornell of Fordham University defended the gun control side. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

There are more gun stores in the United States than there are McDonald’s, Starbucks or grocery stores, according to Saul Cornell, an American history professor from Fordham University.

The Leadership Legacy Experience at UConn hosted a panel of “esteemed experts and scholars” to engage in a contentious conversation on guns in America Wednesday night in the Konover Auditorium at the Dodd Center on the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus.

Panelists included Cornell, professor at Fordham University and author of “A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America” and  Stephen Halbrook, an attorney-at-law and author of “The Founder’s Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms.”

The discussion was moderated by Richard Kay, an associate dean and professor of law at UConn, and a leading scholar on constitutional interpretation.

Each speaker had 10 minutes to say how he or she felt about the issue. Afterward, they would respond to each other’s arguments and then answer questions from both audience members and the moderator.

Cornell spoke first, saying that there are two types of political parties today: evil and idiotic. He then pointed to the 2008 federal court case Heller v. District of Columbia.

The Supreme Court of the United States held in a 5-4 decision that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to federal enclaves and protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

“The Heller case was intellectually embarrassing,” Cornell said.

According to Cornell, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment was meant to be read backward, then joked he didn’t know the Constitution was written in Hebrew.

Cornell believes that all rights in the Constitution should be subject to regulation when it comes to public safety.

He said when compared to other developed countries in the world, the U.S. has the weakest gun laws and the most gun violence.

According to Cornell, African-American men across all ages are safer joining the military (except for the Marines) when it comes to being a victim of gun violence.

He also addressed how most deaths by guns are from suicide and said the argument that if you take guns away people will still find way to kill themselves is simply not true. Guns are the most effective tools, which is why people use them.

“Common sense is needed in the gun debate, [we need] regulation, not to take them away,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Halbrook discussed that all of the amendments have controversy. Citing the First Amendment gives people the right to publish “hate speech, like the ‘Mein Kempf’” and how the Fourth Amendment makes it a process for police to catch criminals because they need warrants first.

According to Halbrook, the Second Amendment came to be during the late 1700s the British Parliament made multiple attempts to disarm the public to take control of them so they would not rebel, such as at Lexington and Concord.

In response to Cornell saying that the two clauses in the Second Amendment was meant to be understood as one, Halbrook said it “doesn’t make sense.”

“The military is a command society, they don’t have rights. They must obey commands,” he said.

Halbrook mentioned two solutions that policymakers usually argue with gun control. First, putting restrictions in place to get firearms out of the hands of criminals and implementing strict punishments even for law abiding citizens if they possess assault rifles.

According to Cornell, the biggest problem with the Second Amendment is how to translate text from the 18th century to present day.

“We’re not having the conversation we should be having,” he said.

Cornell urges that without taking away guns away, we need to start with “easy things” such as getting the gun lobby and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to do more research.

When asked by an audience member what solution he had for gun related homicides, Halbrook said there needs to be a focus on the misuse of guns and not infringements on our rights.

“Need to do more for mental health, [people facing mental health problems] are danger to their selves and to others,” he said.

Cornell fired back that there was so much done to ensure car safety after there was a spike in automobile fatalities, but there’s nothing being done for guns now that gun fatalities have surpassed automobile fatalities.

Second-semester political science major Katherine Langan said she was against guns and the data Cornell used really supported her beliefs.

“I didn’t know much about the history [of the Second Amendment],” she said. “I learned a lot of new information to use in debates [on the issue].”


Angie DeRosa is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at angelina.derosa@uconn.edu. She tweets @theangiederosa.