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 Bill Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:24 posted by Bill

      The Constitution of the United States established a government with a four point check and balance system. It created three points by dividing the government into three branches. The executive, the legislative, and the judicial branch. The fourth point of the system was the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which created an armed citizenry that could use force to reinstitute the Constitution whenever tyrants broke from the law of this land. We the People, do not serve the will of the United States government. The United States government was created to serve the will of the people.

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

      The right to bear arms was first intended to serve as a means of having a fighting force of the people for the country. It was originally intended for the states to have militias that would defend the states and the federal government. Upon the formation of the organizations in the federal government known as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp and the Coast Guard, that need is no longer there. With any government, especially one created by usurping its predecessor, the people will not, cannot, trust it with their rights of property and self defense. We are constantly seeing in this world, from the police to our military, nothing more than a reactionary action unit. But that is what we want, if the police, FBI and military become preemptive to us and other entities, we will fear them. Then our only defense will be the government stopping them, or us as citizens revolting against an oppressive government. I make this statement as a warning, not as a call to action.

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

      The proponents for this motion have flipped and live in a dangerous, delusional world. They know not of our country's history, nor of world history. The right to bear arms is a constitutional right, an INDIVIDUAL RIGHT. Discussions/polls such as these are beyond ignorant, they are anti-American. You don't use one constitutional right (freedom of speech) to attack another constitutional right (right to bear arms). Ridiculous! Traitorous!

    • Comment Link Scott Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Scott

      Supreme Court ruled police have no duty to protect. Your argument that we have police to protect us "now" is invalid.

    • Comment Link Troy Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Troy

      97% against, not much debate needed.

    • Comment Link Ben Purdy Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:20 posted by Ben Purdy

      By that logic women's right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, and the right against unlawful search and seizure have outlived their usefulness as well. Guns aren't all about sport. They are about defending yourself and your family. One final thought, when attacked a person with asthma can't run, they cant use pepper spray either, but they can pick up a gun.

    • Comment Link Scott Tomkins Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:19 posted by Scott Tomkins

      This site has outlive its usefulness. Guns are our defense against people like this site!

    • Comment Link Ken Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:19 posted by Ken

      As long as there are governing officials that can abuse the power they are given the 2nd Amendment will be necessary. The 2nd Amendment was not put there for sport or self defense only, Our founding fathers knew that tyranny is only a step away from an unarmed populous. They understood that all to well. I pray that we never have to face what they did, but there is that possibility if we go quietly into the minority view of firearms.

    • Comment Link Steve B Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:19 posted by Steve B

      Keep the right to bear arms, Take away that right and we become a nation unable to defend ourselves from enemies both foreign and domestic!

    • Comment Link Ken Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:17 posted by Ken

      Our 2nd amendment is there for a very good reason. Its to ensure that our government is for the people and by the people. Its to ensure that if our government becomes corrupt to the point that if it is oppressing the very people that empowered it, that the people would have a chance to resist and be able to enact a change.

      Our founders knew this and lived this. And here we are today - with a government rife in corruption, seeking to oppress us in so many ways, and now trying to take away as many gun rights as they can.

    • Comment Link nick Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:17 posted by nick

      i am against the motion would like to vote against this but the website appears to not give any options to vote... Well then.. It is a right just as any of the other amendments!! how is this a question!!

    • Comment Link Kodiak Actual Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:17 posted by Kodiak Actual

      Giving up our right to carry weapons is the last step needed to silence us, next is probably going to be freedom of speech. We cannot give up our rights as Americans, so many have died to ensure we are a free nation. This is a sign of oppression, a sign that we are trying to be enslaved by power hungry mongers that want to run the nation by their own agenda. I know this has been said many of times by patriots and by those who see the government as a vile beast that only wishes to rule us, but damn it we must do more than just talk about this over the internet, we have to take action against this tyranny. What would our children or grand children say to us when they found out we only stood by as our rights as gun owners and Americans were taken away? What about the men and women of the United States Military who bravely fought to ensure we were a free nation at all costs? I'm sorry but if this keeps going on any longer I will take physical action, I will not have my son grow up under a tyrants rule. NSA and DHS can kick down my door but they know as much as I do that I am right. I didn't become a Marine to fight for such a bullshit cause. God help us all.

    • Comment Link Debora Hall Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:16 posted by Debora Hall

      The Second Amendment states our rights to bear arms shall not be infringed

    • Comment Link Matt Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:15 posted by Matt

      ShallNotBeInfringed. EndOfDebate

    • Comment Link Joe Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:14 posted by Joe

      Why is the default argument against the Second Amendment always "the founding fathers could not have foreseen the kind of weapons we have now"? The Second Amendment is not about allowing people access to destructive devices for any particular usage, it was a strategic decision that recognized that a free society must be permitted to be armed. In the same manner, they recognized that a free society must be able to speak, read, and worship. They must be protected from those who could deny those rights. The government was also constitutionally designed to make it impossible for any one person or agency to amass too much power over the people. Those too, were strategic rights and measures they afforded American society which were designed to stand the test of time. How could we count on the army or police to protect the citizens from the tyrannical government which controls it [the army]? Incidentally, a standing army was never the intention or design of the constitution.

    • Comment Link James Ezzell Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:14 posted by James Ezzell

      Outlaw guns, and only outlaws will have guns.
      Given that the main threat to liberty is not found on foreign shores, but here in the power centers of government, the right to bear arms is the last, and perhaps the only, defense of freedoms.
      It's ironic that in the fight against "terrorism", an ideology inherently jealous and angry at freedom, we suspend or eradicate freedoms in the name of stopping terrorism.
      America will not become safer in the absence of personal weapons in the hands of the citizenry, quite the opposite.
      There are only two things which will bring America into its next revolution-a gun grab, or forced microchips. Rampant laziness and complacency is only a temporary state. A government that fails to realize this is simply out of touch with reality.

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

      Shall Not be infringed

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

      There is no way the founding fathers meant the constitution to be short term and out live it's usefulness. Give up one part of the constitution and the rest of it goes as well. The right to bear arms ensures the rest of the constitution. Give up that right and trash the foundation this country was founded upon.

    • Comment Link Allison Wunderland Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:13 posted by Allison Wunderland

      Second Amendment provides for an armed electorate to "well regulate" the government militia. Without this check and balance we have an armed police state and we throw wide the doors to tyranny.

      Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson understood this, and they may be deceased but their ideas/principles are as viable as ever.

    • Comment Link Alfred Thompson Wednesday, 13 November 2013 21:11 posted by Alfred Thompson

      A close look at most studies suggests that culture has more to do with gun crime and other ill use of firearms than availability would suggest alone. I note also that Article 2A in the New hampshire Constitution which is some what less ambiguous and more liberal in the way it proclaims the right to keep arms is only some 31 years old. Not much has changed since the voters (including me) approved that amendment.

    Leave a comment

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