Archive for the ‘Debate About 2nd Amendment’ Category

Second Amendment, gun violence debated at Gwynedd Mercy


POSTED: 10/25/13, 6:06 PM EDT |
LOWER GWYNEDD — The philosophical difference between the collective good and individual rights was central to a panel discussion on Gun Violence and the Second Amendment sponsored by Gwynedd Mercy University Oct. 24.

There was general agreement on an individual’s right to own a gun and that there is a need to stem gun violence, but the type of guns available for purchase, the size of gun magazines and expanding background checks were, not surprisingly, what separated the panelists.

Bruce Eimer, a psychologist, NRA certified firearms instructor and author of “Armed: The Essential Guide to Concealed Carry,” represented the pro-gun ownership viewpoint, while Sister Diane Guerin, a justice coordinator for the Sisters of Mercy who has spent years teaching peaceful conflict resolution, proposed increased restrictions on gun sales. Tuan Samahon, a Villanova University School of Law professor and expert on constitutional law, explained the most recent Supreme Court decision regarding Second Amendment rights.

The Second Amendment reads: “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.”

Its meaning “is crystal clear,” Eimer said. “It validates the basic human right to self-preservation where self-defense is necessary.”

Guns level the playing field between smaller people and bigger ones, he said.

“I view it in the context of when it was written,” Sister Guerin said. It was “a militia for the common good. … I don’t think it denies or affirms the right to own guns.”

“I don’t think the collective good should trample on individual rights,” Eimer responded. “I would argue guns are good.” The violence is caused by “people committing horrible acts.”

The original intent of the Second Amendment was “a protection against the national government,” Samahon said. “The idea was you could be called up to defend the nation. It meant an individual right to bear arms for the purpose of resisting the national government should it go south. It was a doomsday provision.”

The Supreme Court has interpreted it “not as a collective right, but an individual right,” he said. “That’s the state of the law today.”

Eimer said there is too much confusion with gun control laws varying from one state to another. Gun ownership in terms of the public good “should involve education not legislation,” he said.

“Guns were designed to kill things,” he said. “People were not created equal, but the Supreme Court made them equal.”

Federal legislation could be enacted to “provide uniform standards that would enhance predictability,” Samahon said.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, in his opinion in D.C. v Heller said there could be prohibitions for concealed weapons, the possession of firearms by mentally ill individuals and in sensitive places, Samahon said. It says “the right is limited to arms in common use at the time, not dangerous and unusual weapons. It probably means handguns, but leaves open what it means.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in D.C. v Heller that the Second Amendment established an individual right for U.S. citizens to possess firearms, striking down a D.C. handgun ban, according to an article on the Cornell Law School website (

Following “a ban on certain things over the course of generations, people start to internalize things,” Samahon said. “You can change values through education.”

Noting there is a need for both education and legislation, Sister Guerin said, “I think there should be an assault weapon ban and limit on clips,” and universal background checks including at gun shows, referring to a House bill which would require background checks for the private sale of long guns.

Noting the “last several mass shootings were by mentally unstable” people, Sister Guerin said mental health professionals should be included in the dialogue to determine “reasonable restrictions.”

“There is a lot of misinformation about loopholes” regarding universal background checks, Eimer said. “Limited magazine capacity is nonsensical,” he added. “Criminals don’t obey the law. … You should be able to defend yourself.”

Mass shootings are not carried out by career criminals, Samahon responded. “If you make it more difficult, it’s one way of addressing violence. I don’t hear the NRA say the mentally ill should have ready access to weapons.

“The NRA is a trade association. They make their money by making members believe their rights are in constant jeopardy.”

One member of the audience, comprising mostly college students, asked if the Second Amendment led to a higher level of violence in the United States than in other countries.

Samahon said there did not appear to be any correlation and that “other things are going on,” such as violent films prevalent in our society.

“The causes of violence are very complex in our society,” Eimer said. “The availability of guns and how they play into violence can’t be assessed.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “says gun violence in the U.S. is of epidemic proportions,” Sister Guerin said. “We need to look at what are the causes … what are we teaching as alternatives to violence. We don’t do a very good job doing that.”

“I agree with the message of avoiding violence, but I believe in the right to bear arms,” Gwynedd Mercy senior Justin Turner said afterward. “If you take away the Bill of Rights, what else to do we have to defend ourselves against the government?”

“I agree with the Sister to limit the type of guns, background checks,” Tonishia Sheed, a junior at the university, said. “We have to get the guns off the black market. That’s one of the biggest problems.”

Follow Linda Finarelli on Twitter @lkfinarelli.