The Society courted controversy when it gathered on Thursday to debate Resolved: The Second Amendment should be repealed. Making his induction, Mr. Jeff Naft (COL ’17) of New York spoke for the affirmation with Mr. Dennis Quinn (COL ’15) of Maryland. Also making her induction, Ms. Ashley Burke (SFS ’17) of Vermont keynoted on the negation, joined by Mr. Daniel Kendrick (COL ’15) of Alabama.
Mr. Naft began with history. He praised the rebels who fought evil British tyranny to create a beacon of liberty for the world and agreed that it was natural for a people so recently oppressed to include a right to arms in our Constitution. Nevertheless, he stressed an important truth: Times. Have. Changed. Guns have become ever more lethal, but the antiquated Second Amendment remains. When having a gun is a right and not a privilege, violence reigns even in our schools, from Colorado to Connecticut.
Ms. Burke quoted Machiavelli. “There cannot be good laws where there are no arms; there cannot be arms without good laws.” Times may have changed since the Renaissance, but Ms. Burke emphasized that the right to self-defense is still a first and primary right. Guns level the playing field for the weak when police may not be around. In the words of Washington, “A free people ought to be armed.”
To argue against the Second Amendment, Mr. Quinn appealed to the Ninth, which forbids using the rights enumerated in the Constitution to deny citizens other rights. He reminded the Society that the right to security supersedes any right to bear arms. Even if some rural Americans equate a gun with security, many more live in places where guns cause insecurity. In a federal republic, we cannot violate local and state sovereignty with a stifling amendment that assumes all Americans have the same self-defense needs. Finally, Mr. Quinn emphasized that rights are always preconditions of the democratic process. Since politicians already run on gun issues, guns clearly do not precede democracy.
Mr. Kendrick disputed that claim by wedding guns to the right to revolution. Free citizens have a right to overthrow tyranny, and that right is meaningless without firearms. During Reconstruction, black gun ownership in the South crucially allowed freedmen to defend themselves from lynchings. Fredrick Douglass himself declared, “The musket means liberty.”
Mr. Kevin Diasti criticized Mr. Kendrick’s appeal to historic revolutions for disregarding the inevitability of change. Mr. Nicolas Walker contested that since the Constitution has served us so well, we ought not discard it but Mr. Elijah Jatovsky shattered that claim, noting that the Constitution has many outdated and flawed clauses and has been amended many times. Since we don’t live in a Hobbesian state of nature, the Leviathan can and should take away our natural rights. Ms. Emilie Siegler accused Mr. Jatovsky of wearing rose-tinted glasses that ignored the possibility of government oppression.
Vice President Anna Hernick argued that the Second Amendment falsely equates guns with a good but Ms. Madeleine Ringwald pointed out that no other right has the same stakes as the right to protect ourselves from the government. Mr. Gregory Miller said it was unfair to equate the right to revolution with a right to bear arms but Mr. Jacob Arber insisted that revolution cannot occur without guns.
Mr. Michael Mouch stressed the framing of the debate. Since “arms” had been defined as “guns”, only guns are protected by the Second Amendment. This unnecessary specificity demands repeal. Mr. Luke Young pushed back against Mr. Mouch’s loophole with another loophole, posing the extreme example of officials marching around the country to round up guns. “That’s not America”
As only a realist could, Ms. Annie Aleman (SFS ’16) dismissed Mr. Young’s faith in non-state actors. She contended that the state has the power to quell any armed rebellion, rendering his argument moot. Ms. Taylor Oster (SFS ’17) countered with the example of Syria, where citizens have used arms to seriously challenge the power of their government.
Mr. David Edgar praised non-violent resistance as the key to true revolution, rendering the Second Amendment unnecessary. “The time to fight with weapons is over, the time to fight for peace has come.” Ms. Abigail Grace surprised the Society and spoke for the negation. Pointing to Machiavelli, she insisted that citizens must be a risk to their prince, to dissuade him from turning tyrant.
Quoting a Venezuelan tyrant, Ms. Heather Regen proclaimed “¡En un imperio, no hay derechos!” This reminded the Society that different cultures construct rights differently, to the point that rights can be cheapened. Ms. Regen held that the amendment cheapens the fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ms. Amanda Wynter countered that a democratic process created the amendment with a spirit of reform, so it should not be discarded, but Ms. Colleen Wood turned this argument on its head, pointing to the NRA’s persistent use of the amendment to stifle discourse.
Chancellor Peter Prindiville pushed back against the gun control argument, focusing instead on how repealing the amendment would rob minorities of their right to challenge the majority. In response, Sgt. Warren Wilson thundered that justice is the only true right and justice demands that we recognize that different Americans have different needs.
Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo acknowledged that guns may sometimes complicate things, but maintained that the historical record shows totalitarianism and gun confiscation going hand and hand each and every time. With the example of gun-free, democratic Australia, Mr. Taylor Willis thoroughly debunked Mr. Spagnuolo’s claim. Mr. Willis noted the absurdity of the idea that an armed citizenry could ever overcome the full power of the laser-equipped U.S. military when even the Whisky Rebellion failed. He pressed the Society to support federalism and let the states decide on guns.
Mr. Joshua Wiener declined to trust the states and insisted that we must maintain the individual right but Mr. Timothy Rosenberger reiterated that the right to be free from violence supersedes it.
When the debate returned to the keynoters, Ms. Burke approached the issue from a woman’s perspective. She insisted that no place on Earth is truly safe for a woman, so guns are necessary protection that bring peace of mind. Thomas Jefferson said it best, “One loves to possess arms, though they hope to never have occasion for them.”
Mr. Quinn returned to the negation’s right to revolution argument so he could disprove it. As citizens of a democracy we do have a weapon to overcome tyranny – the ballot box. The democratic process is actually undermined by the Second Amendment because it creates a tyranny of fear in places like Southeast Washington. Fear is not part of the America we believe in.
Echoing many floor speeches, Mr. Kendrick countered that arms are a precondition of democracy because people need to defend themselves. Even though he supported Mr. Edgar’s ode to nonviolence, Mr. Kendrick maintained that citizens must still be prepared to defend against the irrational. Finally, he emphasized that federalism diffuses power but does not allow communities to take away rights.
Hiding his conservatism exceedingly well, Mr. Naft countered that rights can be derived though legal cases like Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, so it makes no sense to say that rights cannot be modified by the state. The Second Amendment prevents Congress from passing simple measures like background checks that would stop the terrible violence that kills Americans every day. Even though the Constitution has served us well, the Founders were not immortal. Mr. Naft implored the Society to stand on the side of progress and repeal an outdated and dangerous amendment.
Reflecting the excellence of the debate, the Society closely split, voting 26-2-25 to technically negate.
The following speakers won Merrick points:
- Chancellor Peter Prindiville – 1 point
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 2 points
- Mr. Daniel Kendrick – 3 points
- Mr. Dennis Quinn – 4 points
- Mr. David Edgar – 5 points
This brings the Merrick totals to:
- Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 17 points
- Ms. Amanda Wynter – 9 points
- Ms. Colleen Wood – 7 points
- Mr. Warren Wilson, Ms. Heather Regen, & Chancellor Peter Prindiville – 6 points
- Mr. Drew Cunningham & Mr. David Edgar – 5 points
- Ms. Caroline Egan & Mr. Dennis Quinn – 4 points
- Mr. Daniel Kendrick – 3 points
- Mr. Jacob Arber & Ms. Madeleine Ringwald – 2 points
- Ms. Emily Coccia & Ms. Asha Thanki – 1 point
Most importantly, we were joyous to induct Mr. Naft and Ms. Burke! Huzzah!!!