By Oliver Bushara
On September 17th, students flooded Merrick Hall to watch Saul Cornell give a lecture on gun regulation. The lecture was sponsored by the History, Political Science and Peace Studies Departments. Approximately 100 students attended the event. Dr. Cornell has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and has written two books on the topic of guns: “The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America” (1999) and “A Well-Regulated Militia: the Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America” (2006). Cornell is also the chair of American History at Fordham University and is currently a visiting professor at Yale University.
For the presentation, Cornell prepared a slideshow. The first picture was meant to shock the audience, as it depicted a couple toting assault rifles in a Starbucks. This was a reference to “open carry” laws, which allow citizens to carry handguns in public, Cornell said. The only states that restrict this practice are California, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and Texas. Some states have even enacted laws that explicitly allow guns in bars, a point which Cornell said divides the rational from the irrational. Guns and alcohol shouldn’t mix, yet bars are the newest territory for gun legislation. Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia recently passed laws allowing guns in bars, even though one third of firearm-related deaths involve alcohol.
The most chilling statistic is that there are 129,817 gun stores in America. To put that in perspective, there are only 36,569 grocery stores and 14,098 McDonald’s restaurants. There are more than 350 million guns in America—more than enough for every man, woman and child (there are 318 million people in America, according to Cornell). It is not a coincidence that Americans are ten times more likely to die of gun violence than a person living in any other developed country.
As Cornell pointed out, the modern gun debate is an issue of individual right versus collective right. The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Because the phrase “the people” is used, the argument can be made that the right pertains not to an individual’s right to bear arms but an organized group’s. In the 2008 Supreme Court Case District of Columbia vs. Heller, Cornell argued against the respective right to bear arms, but lost after the court found that the phrase “keep and bear” applied to individuals.
Fighting the spread of guns in America is difficult, Cornell said, due to the fact that “our culture is so rooted in guns, no solution can be antigun.” The way forward lies in changing who gets to buy guns and who gets to know, Cornell added.
Eighty percent of Americans think there should be universal background checks, yet the country still has not passed a law to put this into action. Gun stores are not required to do inventory, so the American public doesn’t know how many guns are used to commit crimes.