A panel of academics and advocates on April 2 continued Emerson’s discussion series, Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture at the Bordy Theater.
The third discussion of the four-part series, “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?,” examined the right-to-bear-arms constitutional amendment debate that has been raging since the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, last December.
“[Internet hits for] the Second Amendment, just like the First Amendment, are going through the roof on Google. There’s a quarter of a billion hits,” said panel moderator Ted Canova ’82, executive editor of news for WGBH-FM. “It’s really something, because it contains 27 words. And those 27 words have just been a firestorm right now in the country.”
By comparison, the Seventh Amendment, which concerns the right to a jury trial, has about 7 million page views on Google.
“One of the things we need to know is the Second Amendment was written at a time when we were suspect of England,” Canova said. “The militia preceded the military. There was skepticism about religious freedom.”
Canova focused the panel’s discussion on issues stemming from the Supreme Court cases District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), which protect an individual’s right to possess firearms for self-defense.
Panelist Brent Carlson, director of Comm2A, a Boston-based organization dedicated to preserving gun rights, said even though the court decisions are “the law of the land” they are “not fully implemented.”
“There are many instances where that right is denied without due process, or the subjective judgment of a government official,” said Carlson, alluding to Massachusetts laws that give power to police chiefs when deciding gun permit issues.
Panelist Karen MacNutt, an attorney for gun rights advocacy causes, and contributing editor of Women & Guns magazine, said “it’s very clear” there is a force of people in this country who “would gladly ban every gun there is.”
She said many anti-gun people have never had experience with firearms, so there is a “disconnect.”
Panelist Kent Greenfield, who is a professor at Boston College Law School, said the National Rifle Association is winning the battle in Congress.
“Americans love rhetoric about liberty and freedom,” Greenfield said. “I do think that the [loudest] voices on the pro-gun side don’t stand for any… balance against their right to bear arms.”
Greenfield and fellow panelist Mark Tushnet, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, both signed a letter to Congress saying the government does have a right to implement more restrictions on guns, which would still be in accordance with the rulings of Heller and McDonald.
“The court says explicitly that you don’t need to rule out the possibility of a series of conditional regulations of guns,” Tushnet said. “What we say is within the parameters of the Supreme Court’s decision, there is a range of possibilities for regulation of guns that remains open for legislative control.”
For more information on Emerson President Lee Pelton's initative to encourage dialogue on gun violence, visit the College Presidents' Gun Violence Resource Center website.