Since the Connecticut shooting in December, gun control has been at the forefront of political dis­cussion. While the average student might question whether or not guns should exist in society, few people examine the existing constitution­al and legal precedents that define American law. As such, the Federal­ist Society [Editor's Note: and the Cornell Law 2nd Amendment Club], on January 29th, hosted a gun control debate to help clarify such complicated and often contro­versial legalities.

The purpose of the debate was to clarify the legal aspects surround­ing the national discussion on gun control. Alan Gura, the constitution­al lawyer who successfully argued the Heller v D.C. Supreme Court case, and Professor Michael Dorf, Cornell Law professor and noted Constitutional law scholar, focused the debate on how the local and federal courts should evaluate gun legislation.

According to Gura, the Supreme Court has defined much of the Sec­ond Amendment. “[The right to bear arms] started with history. ‘Bear’ meant to carry,” he remarked. “Heller says the core purpose of this amendment is the right to defend yourself.”

By this definition, the Supreme Court has effectively created a prec­edent in which some basic level of gun ownership is protected under the Constitution and that people are allowed to use guns in a defen­sive manner. This suggests that for the foreseeable future, gun owner­ship will remain a part of American society.

However, Gura qualified his state­ment. “Heller says there are some restrictions, such as the banning of guns in sensitive places.”

“The rule derived is that the man­ner [of using and owning guns] can be regulated.” As such, although gun ownership will remain a part of American society, Congress and local governments can place cer­tain levels of restrictions on gun ownership.

Professor Michael Dorf had lit­tle disagreement on Gura’s assess­ment regarding the legalities of gun rights. However, Dorf highlighted some ambiguous elements within the ruling.

“The Supreme Court will proba­bly allow a right to defend yourself and a right [to use guns] in the home and public space,” he commented. “But what methodology will be used for weapons outside the home?”

Because the ruling was partially vague, the government has given an unclear opinion on practical mat­ters regarding gun ownership and use. For example, what constitutes a “sensitive space”? According to Dorf, these unanswered questions are important in understanding gun legislation.

As the discussion progressed, both Professor Dorf and Mr. Gura argued the more appropriate meth­ods of judicial interpretation that define gun restriction. According to Gura, the U.S. Constitution can be read through its framers’ intent. Thus, according to him, the Second Amendment and the framers intent of this right must be viewed in a his­torical context in order to accurately and effectively establish the right.

Gura took this logic one step further in interpreting the Second Amendment. “The Second Amend­ment presupposes the use of weap­ons used in the military. Technology has changed, which affects the right. However, technology does not change the [idea] of common use.” Based on the historical context of the amendment, individ­uals have the right to bear weapons used for common or personal use. Allowing individuals to carry com­mon weapons was how effective local militias formed and what con­sequent court cases have considered protected under the Second Amend­ment during the time period.

Professor Dorf, however, con­tended that the right is vague as well as outdated and thus a more inter­pretive perspective should be used. “What is necessary for self-defense might be lower [than the weapons used for personal use]. But this is completely arbitrary.”

Dorf argued that understanding the mindset of the framers is im­possible. Given that the language of the Second Amendment and the Su­preme Court cases are somewhat vague, American legislators must use their own personal judgment.

By doing this, Dorf argued that the Second Amendment could be standardized to the needs of society today, rather than the historical con­text of the past.

Whether an individual perceives the law from a “conservative” or “liberal” viewpoint, these issues are both controversial and unclear.

What is the difference between using a gun at home and in a public space?

What constitutes common use?

All of these questions are worth considering and debating. Americans have to accept that the right to a weapon is a fundamen­tal right, and the use of a weap­on in cases of self-defense is a core American value stated in the Con­stitution. Government and society can debate the legal formalities and constitutional restrictions regard­ing gun control, but at the end of the day, guns will be protected. If soci­ety disapproves of this Constitution­al value, then an amendment should be passed. Until then, guns are here to stay.

Bill Snyder is a freshman in the school of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at