On Monday, November 1, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and University of Chicago professor and author John Lott debated “Should we have a right to bear arms?” in Thompson Memorial Chapel. Professor of art Mike Lewis and Nishant Nayyar ’02 joined professor Lott in his support of the resolution while professor of math Thomas Garrity and Avi Raina ’01 aided Governor Dukakis in his opposition.
President of the College Carl W. Vogt opened up the proceedings before the capacity audience before turning the floor over to Nayyar, who gave the opening speech for the proposition. Arguing that the second amendment has not outlasted its purpose, Nayyar pointed to the necessity of self-defense and the impracticality of disarming an entire nation as reasons not to ban guns.
Raina spoke next, establishing the opposition’s case. Raina called attention to the well-regulated militia clause of the second amendment which “Does not mean that you and your crazy gun nuts can go into the hills of Montana and shoot your guns.” He challenged the opposition to show why guns necessarily required protection under the Constitution, although he granted that guns should not be banned outright. The Williams students then turned the debate over to their professors.
Lewis first looked at the issue in light of lessons learned from prohibition: “We think in terms of moral absolutes because we’re lazy and it’s easier.” He also argued that gun control measures tend to disarm the urban poor disproportionately. In effect, Lewis claimed, these measures take guns out of black hands. Professor Lewis concluded his speech by expressing his fears of the road ahead: “they promise utopia, but I want to see the roadmap… the days until then will be rather dangerous.”
Garrity opened his response with a simple question: “Should the right to have a gun be more important than the right to have a car?” He then went on to address the concern that without the right to bear arms the government could easily oppress the governed. Citing tanks and nuclear missiles as only a few examples of the government’s powerful arsenal, Garrity concluded that even with a well-armed populace, “if the government wanted to oppress us, they could.” Still, he pointed to several examples of democracies that easily resist the slide into tyranny even with strict gun control laws.
Lott next gave a factually dense defense of the right to bear arms. Using numerous statistics, he attempted to dispel several myths about guns and crime. He showed that the number of crimes stopped with guns outnumbered crimes committed by guns by more than four to one. Further, he explained that the 58 percent of gun-related deaths that are attributed to an acquaintance of the victim mostly applies to gang members killing one another or drug pushers killing drug dealers, and not people shooting their loved ones.
Dukakis countered Lott’s many statistics with several examples of his own. He also challenged the validity of the proposition’s numbers, stating that they relied on areas that have gun control laws, but do not enforce them. Using Boston as his prime example, Dukakis stressed that strictly enforcing gun control laws halved gun-related crimes. He stressed, however, that gun control needs to be employed as a part of a larger crime-fighting strategy and not as the primary measure.
Following concluding speeches by Nayyar and Raina and a brief period of floor-speeches, the Williams Debate Union invited that audience to vote for the winner by exiting through designated doors. The final tally gave the win to the proposition 158 to 142.