January 29, 2013

Debate at Law School Tackles Gun Control Legislation

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A Cornell alumnus and a Cornell law professor faced off in a debate about firearms law in the United States on Tuesday, an event that drew about 150 people.

Prof. Michael Dorf, law, and Alan Gura ’92, a litigator in high- profile cases about gun regulation, went head-to-head as they discussed interpretation of the Second Amendment and its applications in modern American life.

Dorf and Gura have previously taken opposing views of Second Amendment law. In 2008, Gura argued District of Columbia vs. Heller — a case that struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban — all the way to the Supreme Court, despite Dorf’s urging that the ban be upheld.

The organizers of the debate said they felt that the recent spotlight on gun regulation made the event more relevant to attendees.

The debate opened with the two speakers discussing federal cases dealing with carrying firearms outside the home and potential future cases about the issue.

“The Second Amendment related to a collective military right to carry guns. [The Supreme Court] looked to the term ‘bear arms’ and saw that it had a uniquely militaristic meaning,” Gura said.

Dorf said it is difficult to predict future Supreme Court rulings about the question of carrying guns.

“It is absolutely an open question about what will happen in respect to public carrying,” Dorf said.

Despite the serious nature of the debate, there was room for humor in the conversation. Dorf questioned whether a hypothetical law banning a hypothetical death ray would violate the Second Amendment. Gura also remarked on military grade weapons, saying, “There is no drone season for deer.”

In the wake of shooting tragedies such as that at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., organizers said their decision to hold the debate was questioned.

“I was actually approached over winter break, and someone said, ‘Given the controversy, maybe we shouldn’t hold it,’” Dan Hartman grad, one of the organizers of the event, said. “We go to Cornell University; we can debate things without being disagreeable. We can debate high-profile issues.”

The leaders of the two groups that organized the event — the Cornell Law School chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian group, and the Second Amendment Club, which promotes discussion of how to use guns recreationally and safely — both studied under Dorf as first-year law students.

“He is the biggest name in constitutional law,” said Jonathan Underwood law, another one of the event’s organizers.

Hartman echoed his sentiments.

“We have two intellectual heavyweights on this issue,” Hartman said.

Attendees said they were impressed by the stage presence of the two debaters.

“I thought they were both very funny and informed on the issue,” said Drew Levine grad.

Raphaella Ricciardi grad said she enjoyed hearing the differing viewpoints presented at the debate.

“It was interesting to hear [Dorf’s] liberal take on things,” she said.

Organizers said they felt the event was a success.

“We are very pleased with how the event went,” Underwood said. “We had a very impressive turnout and some excellent discussion.”

Original Author: Erica Augenstein