Current Issues Debate Discussion: American Gun Culture

Elizabeth Field

It was made clear to all of the attendees prior to the commencement of Feb. 28’s installment of the Current Issues series that this panel discussion would not be allowed to advance into a debate. However Thursday’s “A Conversation on the Second Amendment: Understanding Ourselves—American Gun Culture” hosted by Professors Marty O’Connor, Tracy Tamborra and Joseph Wilson did spark some heated conversation.

Professor Tracy Tamborra opened the conversation stating her growing concern regarding the nature of gun control discussions. She cited that the tendency to turn these conversations into a debate stems from “intellectual laziness.” She calls polarization of the issue “at the very least ineffective and at the worst divisive.”

Professor Marty O’Connor continued the introduction with an evaluation of the context of the Second Amendment. He described the highly-contested issue regarding interpretation of the amendment, especially concerning the placement of the second of three commas. Those who believe the comma places the first clause in the absolute deduce that the right to bear arms is exclusive to the militia. The second viewpoint, confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2006’s Heller v. D.C., retains power with the individual.

Professor Joseph Wilson also blames rhetoric for creating confusion and polarization regarding gun control. He cites “imprecise terminology and clichés such as ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ [which] fails to take into account precise military weapons as tools” as a mistake those opposed to gun legislation often fall victim to. On the other side of the spectrum, anti-gun proponents often use imprecise vocabulary when referring to automatic firearms, which create an environment that fosters polarization between the two groups.

Many in attendance offered their own varied personal anecdotes and experiences regarding gun cultures. There were many who grew up in New England and had limited experience with firearms, which led to their beliefs regarding gun control as adults. Conversely, there was an attendee who was born and raised in Bridgeport, Conn. as the daughter of a firearms retailer who was vocal in her support of proper weapons training.

O’Connor expressed concern that there are currently over 270 million firearms in circulation in the United States, and that there are more guns available in this country than in any other industrialized society. “The number of people who own guns are going down but the number of guns that people own are increasing.”

This lead to a question from the audience regarding the nature of race and class as it relates to the support of gun legislation.

Professor Tamborra responded with, “What these polls raise is an interesting idea of power and the sustenance of power. The group that is most in support of gun ownership and most likely to want no legislation regulating guns is actually white males. And this is a group that has historically held power and felt the need to continue holding power…I’m not a psychologist, I’m a criminologist, bit it would be extremely interesting to see a study of those who are most in support of guns. Is it a power issue or something else?”

Despite getting heated at some points, the conversation was mostly respectful and even at sometimes playful. When one audience member suggested that we “simply allow people to have the types of weapons at the time that the 2nd Amendment was written,” there was a shout from the crowd: “Does that mean I can have a large cannon?!”