Rifling through perspectives, students discuss gun control in U.S.

Karoline Leavitt, Crier staff

The right to bear arms has played a tremendous role in American society since the Constitution was written, but controversy over what the amendment means has never wavered.

In order to delve deeper into the discrepancies regarding the Amendment, students from the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador program held a discussion at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics last Friday evening. The ambassadors invited three professionals from diverse fields to debate different perspectives of the amendment in front of a student audience.   

The panelists included Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Liana Pennington, History Professor Dr. Andrew Moore, and Lieutenant Mark Morrison of the Londonderry Police Department. Morrison is also the President of the New Hampshire Police Association.

Each professional drew upon his or her own experience with the 2nd Amendment in their respective field.

First, they were asked what the right to bear arms means to them. Lieutenant Morrison led the conversation, stating that in his eyes, the right ultimately protects one of the many freedoms that citizens deserve.

“New Hampshire is one of the most freedom-oriented states. It’s right on our license plate. For me, as a police officer, my take on this right is that the Constitution provides people the right to bear arms. And we always have to keep people’s rights in mind,” led Lt. Morrison.

In relation to his own field of study, Professor Moore drew upon the historical aspect of the amendment, “From this historical document, we have this formal right. In that time, the phrase ‘right to bear arms,’ was used as a civic right but also a personal right, for hunting and other non-military purposes.”

Dr. Pennington emphasized the legal realities of the amendment and how they have transpired over time, “there’s a lot of debate about what those words mean.” She used Supreme Court case D.C. vs. Heller to emphasize that point.

D.C. vs. Heller ensued not too long ago in 2008; it was the first time the Supreme Court gave a definitive answer on whether the Second Amendment provides an individual right to own and bear arms. The Court stated that it in fact does.  

All three panelists agreed that there has been much discrepancy over how people have interpreted this amendment throughout the years. They also agreed that those inconsistencies are evident amongst different demographics.

Dr. Pennington recalled her time living in Alabama, “people viewed guns much differently there than they do here in the Northeast. How you view and use guns in your personal life affects what light you see this Constitutional Amendment in.”

Professor Moore added to her point, “common sense gun laws are not always common sense to the same people. Common sense is not the same for someone in New Hampshire and down south.”

However, the panelists did disagree when asked to what extent the government can go to regulate weapons. Lieutenant Marshall was adamant about protecting the freedom of the people and restricting government intervention at all costs.

“The Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments, were written to restrict the government and protect the people, it’s important to keep what could happen with excessive government regulation at bay – first need to be able to talk about it, second need to be able to defend ourselves from it,” he remarked.

Professor Moore and Dr. Pennington mildly disagreed. They argued that the court has already ruled that it’s okay to infringe upon people’s right to bear arms, in cases of domestic violence or mental illness.

At the end of the discussion, students were able to ask their own questions about the 2nd Amendment. Several students expressed concerns about school safety, recalling the horrific mass shootings that have occurred in recent years from Newtown, Connecticut to Parkland, Florida.

All three panelists agreed that gun-control is not the only solution to mass-shootings. Lieutenant Marshall simply stated, “our mental health treatment is not nearly good enough. I have personally seen mentally-ill people back on the streets within hours of their call.”

Professor Moore also mentioned that the popularization of violent video games has de-sensitized violence to children. Dr. Pennington added that unequal opportunities and a lack of education growing up may lead people to abuse their right to bear arms.

Lieutenant Morrison ended the discussion on a positive note, “as a society, we are getting much better at risk-assessment to protect our children. Now when we design schools, we aren’t interested in building big, beautiful, open concept buildings. Now we build schools and public places with safety in mind.”

He added, “but we do need to be more proactive. Usually, we know when people are a threat. But the laws have restricted us from acting against them prior to doing something wrong. Students, teachers, police officers, we all need to speak up and say something when we believe someone may be a threat to our safety.”

After the hour-long discussion, students in the audience remained both intrigued and concerned.  The Ambassador program holds similar debates throughout the year that are open to all students, regardless of major. Those interested in engaging in political discourse are always encouraged to attend.