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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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.

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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

About This Event

Event Photos

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    • Comment Link Chris Wednesday, 04 December 2013 22:30 posted by Chris

      This is to Ryan-

      Intelligence squared is recorded in New York. Certainly you heard the audience cheering the Pro side all night.
      They did are not pushing an agenda, if they were, you would see a different national pie chart projected.

    • Comment Link Glockslinger Sunday, 01 December 2013 22:24 posted by Glockslinger

      What the organizers of this event obviously didn't take into account was the general bias of those at the venue participating in the vote. I did like the idea that the actual winner was declared by how many people's minds they could change, but this less proved the validity of the 2nd Amendment (or not) and became more about which orator was more persuasive. There's a reason why Alan is such a great lawyer! He's not right, but he sure can drive home a point.

    • Comment Link enubus Wednesday, 27 November 2013 18:29 posted by enubus

      Hitler, Mao and Stalin were the greatest gun control advocates of the 20th Century and how many people did they kill when their respective governments took all the guns from the people? Millions!!!

      As to Australia and England, the foolish people allowed their misguided governments to take their guns and in both countries home invasion robberies went up 1000%. In the US gun owners save lives from the bad guys 2 million times a year.

    • Comment Link Robert Wednesday, 27 November 2013 00:06 posted by Robert

      Obviously it is antiquated. The 2nd Amendment says "arms" not small arms or firearms and applied to cannons in that time. So today that would include heavy artillery, tanks and even tactical nukes. Which most people would think that's a bad idea to have.

    • Comment Link Vic Monday, 18 November 2013 16:36 posted by Vic

      I think the Freedom of Speech should be removed first. This poll shows that it has outlived its usefulness too. I assume you want to kill the entire Constitution, right?


    • Comment Link Collins Monday, 18 November 2013 16:32 posted by Collins

      How can they avoid addressing the elephant in the room, given that the theme is about outliving the usefulness of the amendment: a 18th century muzzle loader has nothing to do with modern semi-automatic handguns or rifles. It's like likening the H-bomb to bombs working in air.

    • Comment Link Robert M Monday, 18 November 2013 12:35 posted by Robert M

      Dershowitz is correct when he states that the Second Amendment was put in place for the purpose of maintaining the right of rebellion. That is an inherent, natural right, one which still stands even today. The right of self-defense is also inherent and it includes the right to not only cast of tyranny but also to prevent it, just as it includes repelling an armed assailant. Dave Kopel is also correct, in that the general government has failed in keeping up the militias as defined in the Constitution.

    • Comment Link Don Monday, 18 November 2013 09:09 posted by Don

      You should retain the public poll results from before the debate for historical record.

      Here is a snapshot:

    • Comment Link Aussie Monday, 18 November 2013 04:50 posted by Aussie

      In answer to Josh and so many others who forward the claim that guns don't kill ... Yeah they do. Of course it's the crazy aggressors who pull the trigger, but those nuts can be overpowered when they use knives and crossbows etc. which obviously is not the case with a gunman. Australia bought back guns off the underworld and madmen years ago, and hey ... what a surprise, guns are not widely available and we don't have senseless tragedies. They can be prevented. No one needs a gun.

    • Comment Link mtrphx Sunday, 17 November 2013 14:51 posted by mtrphx

      Getting an amendment of any kind for any reason is by design one very tough to reach goal. So frankly, I find this particular debate to be so over reaching as to make it moot from any viewpoint. On the other hand, the 2A does includes the words, "well regulated", and an exploration of just what that might mean seems well in order. Personally I find the NRA and it's hyper proponents childish white supremacists with all the sophistication of a 5 year old trowing a tantrum because mommy said no candy right now. Given is tiny size (3 million people in a nation with 310 million people) and it's stupidity to the point of shear lunacy it can and should be shunned and ignored. We as responsible and rational people need to provide them with the adult supervision they so clearly and desperately need.

    • Comment Link z.d. basso Saturday, 16 November 2013 13:40 posted by z.d. basso

      gee I knew there were lots of gun nuts, but this boggles the imagination. @zdbasso skewers right wing nuts and taliban politicians on a regular basis. where the thesis is that pornogrphic politics results in execrable economics…keep your powder dry gun nuts.

    • Comment Link Jeff Saturday, 16 November 2013 11:24 posted by Jeff

      So your tiny little voting panel voted for the motion to suspend the second amendment?

      Why the hell should I care what these northeast elitist political hacks think?

      Meanwhile, you have nearly 50,000 internet votes at the time I leave this comment, with 98% AGAINST repealing the second amendment.

      Again, why the hell should I care what your tiny little panel thinks, when they're so obviously outnumbered by common Americans?

    • Comment Link GB Saturday, 16 November 2013 05:47 posted by GB

      This Poll is pure biased anti gun Bullpucky.
      Its that simple.

    • Comment Link Matthew K Saturday, 16 November 2013 03:56 posted by Matthew K

      Wow, this debate seems to have pulled in a lot of paranoid people. I'm sorry to say guys, but your fantasies about fighting back against Obama and his fascist hordes has absolutely zero chance of occurring. Worse than these delusions though, they seem to be responding to an unrelated debate. There's an idea running through the comments that somehow the supreme court's previous decisions have some bearing on this debate, or that by being declared a right it is somehow absolute. It doesn't and it isn't. This was about whether or not the right to bear arms is relevant or useful, not whether or not it has been declared constitutional previously.

    • Comment Link zackf Friday, 15 November 2013 21:40 posted by zackf

      The Constitution's purpose was to limit the power of the federal government, not guarantee inalienable rights like self defense (life), liberty and property.

    • Comment Link Dana M. Friday, 15 November 2013 18:35 posted by Dana M.

      The Constitution exists for me no matter where I go- even abroad. It is my obligation to defend it. I cannot pick out the parts I like. In for a dime, in for a dollar.
      Review of the Constitution is not the same as revise. I'm sure there are some who would like to revise slavery. The review has to encompass the consistent protection of the flesh and blood creations of God, not the fictitious entities who have assigned themselves the protectors of the people via other means than the Constitution.
      People who aren't supposed to have guns are all around me. They also "aren't supposed" to be doing lots of other things. The crime starts there. Illegal weapons do not find people- people find them. I refuse to be unarmed agaist the criminals. If I am invoved in an incident, let the judge have but one story to hear- mine.

    • Comment Link Patrick S. Friday, 15 November 2013 17:34 posted by Patrick S.

      It's understandable that people get emotional when it comes to guns, because guns can be terrifying. But it's that fear that leads to irrational conclusions about guns control. The old saying IS true. It's not the weapon that kills, but the person. If you want to kill another human being, there are many weapons at your disposal, including knives, cars, hammers, axes, poisons, home made bombs etc. And we wouldn't want to ban cars and knives would we?

      When will people learn that banning something does not get rid of it. It didn't work for alcohol. It hasn't worked for drugs or prostitution. And similarly, banning guns will not keep criminals and people with bad intentions from obtaining them. And if the criminals are armed, then regular Americans should have the right to be armed as well.

    • Comment Link Ryan Friday, 15 November 2013 17:15 posted by Ryan

      I wonder who they were polling in order to "Declare" those for the motion the winners. Because obviously, there is some sort of bias there. After all, just look at the public, online vote. Scam artists. Shame on you, intelligence squared, for trying to push your agenda while offering skewed polls and biased results.

    • Comment Link Another Mike Friday, 15 November 2013 15:27 posted by Another Mike

      To see the public poll results, click the RESULTS tab.
      That works for me.

    • Comment Link Ryan Friday, 15 November 2013 14:27 posted by Ryan

      As a pro gun liberal/libertarian who sees no connection between communism and gun rights, I have rolled my eyes at a lot of comments on here.
      People struggle to discuss the topic without describing their perception of the opposing view as a homogenous group.
      Time to abandon the dichotomous world view.
      I personally think every town should have a heavily armed militia: tanks, drones, warheads, you name it. The combined might of the people should always trump the power of the federal government. For democracy to survive authority must be backed by power. When it is not we are slaves to a central power. The only think keeping us free now is our rampant consumerism, that makes it too profitable for the plutocracy to make any real changes. If we changed that the most powerful government in the world, steered ad it is by big money, would seize our rights in a heart beat.
      So how long before all rights, except the right to buy stuff, are gone?
      We are building a scifi movel every day.

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