With less than a quarter of the Bill Bordy Theater filled Tuesday night, gun rights advocates and law school scholars met to discuss the role of the Second Amendment in the national firearm regulations debate during the third installment of the series “Made in America: Our Gun Violence Culture.”
The event, titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” was the least attended of the discussion series so far. It focused on landmark Supreme Court cases like District of Columbia v. Heller, which guaranteed the right for individuals to own firearms for lawful practice regardless of service in a militia, and McDonald v. Chicago, which allowed citizens to possess guns under local, state, and federal law.
During the hour and 15 minute debate, other themes included what rights Constitutional provisions allow for owners of these weapons and the current direction of gun sales.
The panels are part of President M. Lee Pelton’s initiative to spark discussions in higher education on issues relating to gun control, which he started after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14 that left 26 people dead.
Among the four panelists were Brent Carlton, director and president of Comm2A, a nonprofit charity dedicated to informing citizens of firearm laws and rights; and Karen MacNutt, an attorney and contributing editor to Women & Guns.
The other two panel members were Kent Greenfield, a professor and law fund research scholar at Boston College Law School; and Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School.
Ted Canova, executive editor for news at WGBH Radio and an ’82 Emerson graduate, moderated the panel discussion.
The panel drew about 30 viewers, although the theater can seat 131. The March 18 event drew 190 attendees, 30 more than the first panel discussion. All three events were open to the public.
In a post-discussion interview, Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of public affairs, said the low attendance could be attributed to two reasons.
“I think two things: One is we’re getting into April, and April is a crazy month at Emerson with final projects and getting on towards exams and so forth,” he said. “And I would say maybe second that the topic may have seemed a little dry to a student population.”
Canova kicked off the discussion by holding up a copy of the document being discussed and all 157 pages of the DC v. Heller decision.
“The Second Amendment is just one of those amendments that’s on fire right now,” he said, citing the quarter of a billion hits for the document on Google as support for its popularity.
MacNutt, who said she has debated the amendment several times and represents gun advocate groups like the National Rifle Association in court, said she thinks there is miscommunication between gun control supporters and these kinds of organizations.
But Greenfield said he thinks some firearm protection groups are reasonable, but he does not see the NRA this way, considering the organization’s proposed plans to arm teachers to protect students from shooters.
Canova steered the conversation into a discussion to a blog post MacNutt wrote in 2003, titled “No Firearms Allowed,” which outlines her opinions on where these weapons are permitted on federal property.
MacNutt said she does not have a problem with federal institutions that have a place to holds weapons while their owners go inside, but is upset with places like post offices that will not hold weapons. She also agreed that schools are a gray area when it comes to guns.
According to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website, when traveling between states with a firearm, owners must be aware of local and state laws that differ, the website states. MacNutt said gun licenses are not recognized across state borders, even when traveling on interstate highways, which are federally owned.
Tushnet said in one court case, which he did not specify, a man was convicted for having a gun licensed in Virginia in his car. The man pulled over to the right side of the road outside the border of Virginia to sleep. If he had been on the left side, he would have been in Virginia, and therefore would not have been arrested, Tushnet said.
“The example you gave, quite frankly, shows how absurd the law can be,” MacNutt said in response to Tushnet.
Afterwards, Canova introduced the topic of firearm sales. Brent said that more guns have been purchased recently than in previous years, despite Canova’s statement expressing the decline of firearm sales.
“This is a business that has grown dramatically in the last three years,” Brent said.
He said more citizens are buying guns now because of fear that firearms will be taken away, given the legislative trend toward banning certain weapons.
According to a report published in The New York Times on Jan. 11, there was a strong increase in firearm sales in Dec., as indicated by an analysis of federal statistics by National Shooting Sports Foundation.
During the Q-and-A session, one audience member asked about laws concerning the creation of guns at home with technology such as 3D printers, and another questioned the panel concerning what rights advocates feel are not acceptable under the Second Amendment as technology improves.
Brent said the law generally allows for making firearms at home, but with a few restrictions, which he did not go into detail about.
MacNutt said what is acceptable under the law depends on the weapon, and that it is hard to say what things will be like in the future.
MacNutt also had a passionate response when Canova asked her about the Obama administration making decisions on guns control.
“We will lose what 200 years of blood and sweat have earned for us,” she said at a louder volume, with her eyes on Canova.
Despite this tension, after the event, all of the panelists and the moderator agreed that the discussion was respectful.
“I thought it was well done because the moderator got us engaged in a conversation,” Tushnet said in an interview after the debate. “It wasn’t people making speeches. There was some engagement, it was good.”
The next panel will be held on April 25 and will focus on the social, cultural, and economic aspects of gun violence.