February 28, 2013
Hamilton had a duel Wednesday night. Albeit, the College, not the founding father, and about guns, not with them. At 8 p.m. in the Chapel, students gathered to watch the Hamilton College Democrats and Republicans face off on the issue of gun control. The event was sponsored by the two political groups, as well as by the Government Department.
Earlier this year, the Democrats and Republicans held another bipartisan debate, then in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election. According to Co-President of the Hamilton College Democrats Will Rusche ’13, the debate on gun control “was both inspired by the success of last semester’s debate and is also part of the ongoing effort by the HCDems and HCRepublicans to raise political engagement on campus.”
This semester’s debate posed the question, “Are President Obama’s gun control proposals unnecessary, ineffective and unconstitutional?” President of the Hamilton College Republicans Sarah Larson ’15, Brady Sprague ’15 and Patrick Bedard ’14 represented the pro-side to the prompt, as Hamilton College Democrats Secretary Deb Roney ’15, Treasurer Keara Fenzel ’14 and Social Chair Jake London ’14 of the Democrats represented the opposition.
Moderating the event, James S. Sherman Professor of Government Phillip Klinkner introduced the question at hand and announced the format: five minute opening statements from each side, five minute rebuttals, 25 minutes of questions from the audience and five minute closing statements.
Starting off the gun control debate with a bang, Klinkner polled the room asking audience members to stand in accordance with their views: 18 stood, agreeing with the prompt, while 47 stood in dissent.
The Republicans attempted to sow the seeds of doubt surrounding the effectiveness of Obama’s gun control policies. Hamilton College Republicans Larson led with a lyric from rapper Ice-T, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” saying such philosophy is “absolutely relevant in today’s debate.” She discussed the need to distinguish guns from violence, arguing that guns “aren’t violent in themselves, and aren’t violent unless they are fired.” She continued to say that the American government doesn’t have the right to take away Americans’ rights and pointed to a gun’s value for self-defense, notably for women in danger of rape.
The Democrats argued that Obama’s measures are necessary to curb the mass shootings that have been so frequently in the news. Opening for the Democrats, Roney asked, “How many more shootings do we have to have?” Though she agreed with Larson that American individuals deserve the right to bear arms, she argued that action must be taken to reduce gun violence.
During the rebuttal period of the debate, the Republicans and Democrats attempted to shoot holes in their opponents’ arguments. For the Republicans, Sprague argued that the Republicans agreed that something needed to be done in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting—just not Obama’s gun control policies. “We think the responsibility of the government is to project your rights,” while, “the democrats think it’s the government’s job to restrict your rights,” said Sprague. For the Democrats, Kenzel addressed the prevalent illegal distribution of sales in gun shows. “Just because we have a few places that follow these restrictions does not keep guns out of the wrong hands,” she said.
In closing, the Republicans reiterated their argument that Obama’s policies would be ineffective. Citing statistics, he argued that the president’s policies would actually prevent people from defending themselves. “For every 33 Americans that are killed, 4,000 people every day use a gun in self-defense.”
For the Democrats, London closed the event by clarifying that the Democratic argument is not seeking to “infringe on your liberties, but simply restrict the purchase of guns in certain situations.” Moreover, he pointed that while gun control is an effective response to the recent, horrific mass shootings, it is also not the only step necessary. Addressing the issue involves “not just gun control, not just mental health awareness, but also education and other programs that can keep people out of these violent acts.”
Once the debate concluded, Klinkner re-polled the room. Each side lost votes, but there was no aggregate change amongst the audience, making one wonder whether the arguments and statistics weren’t enough to convince audience members to change their minds or whether gun control is an issue on which people can’t so easily be swayed.