Was the Second Amendment a Mistake?

On March 11, 2024, Dr. John Lott debated the eminent law professor Sanford Levinson on the subject: Was the Second Amendment a Mistake?  The debate lasted about an hour. It was held at the University of Wisconsin and started at 6:30 p.m. The debate was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). The moderator was Professor Ryan Owens.

Unlike much of what we see in politics, the debate was cordial and civilized. There was no student protest to prevent Dr. Lott from being able to debate Professor Levinson. Dr. Lott is an eminent scholar on gun control issues. Dr. Levison is credited with doing much to give credibility to the scholarly examination of the Second Amendment with his article entitled “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” published in the Yale Law Journal in 1989.

The format of the debate was: Introductions, 10 minutes to Dr. Lott, 10 minutes to Professor Levinson, 2 minutes to Dr. Lott for rebuttal, 2 minutes for Dr. Levinson for rebuttal; then a question and answer period with questions from the moderator and the audience. Because of time constraints, the Q & A period was merged with concluding remarks, first by Professor Levinson, with Dr. Lott speaking last.

Both men are obviously gifted and well-practiced public speakers. They showed how a civilized debate can be held without shouting and histrionics. As often happens in debates, they answered the question from significantly different points of view.

Dr. Lott’s position was that of an empiricist, appropriate for his training and profession as an economist. His position was the Second Amendment was not a mistake because more guns means more protection for the vulnerable in society.

Professor Levinson’s position was a classic position of Progressives. It consisted of two basic points. First, that was then; this is now. Things have changed. Policies have to change with circumstances. The Second Amendment keeps the government from making changes. Second, restrictions on government are bad. Government is good.

It appeared to this correspondent Dr. Lott’s empirical approach was more persuasive. Professor Levison suggested, at one point, that given Dr. Lott’s position, the government should subsidize the purchase of guns by lower-income people. Dr. Lott responded by saying he would be happy if the government would simply stop making it harder for poor people to purchase and carry guns.

Professor Levison burnished his academic reputation by stating one of the best supports for the U.S. v Heller decision was the Dred Scott decision, decided in 1857. He gave an accurate portrayal of Chief Justice Taney’s explanation of why black people could not be considered citizens. Black people would then be able to carry guns with them wherever they would go. This academic exercise seemed to support Dr. Lott’s position more than Professor Levinson’s.

Student questions in the Q&A were less informed. It is to be expected. Perhaps they were sophomores. Responses to the questions were thoughtful and well-reasoned.

The debate is worth watching. It shows how a civilized debate should be held. Dr.  Lott starts with a technique I have used: praising your opponent. It becomes harder for them to use ad hominem attacks, and it sets the tone for a fact-based contest.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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