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SEGL students deliver gun rights speeches to top Hillary Clinton and White House speechwriters

DC is ground zero in the debate over the Second Amendment’s meaning.  Our students saw that debate up close last week during a compelling case study on gun legislation and speechwriting.

gunleg-4On Monday, we met with longtime Hillary Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine to hear speechwriting war stories (Muscatine wrote Clinton’s famous 1995 “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and her 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention, among many others) and to hear advice on how to craft effective speeches.  Muscatine then presented the week’s assignment (click here to download): in groups of four, the students would author three minute speeches on gun rights for either Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) or Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).  The speeches were to be delivered at a live CNN town hall meeting in Toledo, Ohio about assault weapons, held just after another brutal mass killing in Toledo.

gunleg-2On Wednesday, we met two leading advocates on either side of the gun debate: Ladd Everitt, the Director of Communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (Everitt was fresh off an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show) and Clark Neily, who organized the Heller side of the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case DC v. Heller, which first established the Constitutional right to own a handgun.  Both gave articulate and gunleg-3-2inspired defenses of their side, leaving students profoundly uncertain about their original views.  (At SEGL, we take this intellectual confusion as a healthy thing!)  And both were deeply impressed with the quality of the discussion.  Meanwhile, in English class we studied Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle, reading pieces that exemplified each element, and discussed video clips from well-known speeches.

gunleg-8On Friday, Muscatine returned, bringing with her Megan Rooney, with whom she worked for years at the State Department (Rooney has just been hired to join an even more prestigious speechwriting team–the formal announcement will come soon!).  The students delivered six impressive speeches, and Muscatine and Rooney gave 15-20 minutes of discussion-based commentary on each one.  Is this the right word for this audience?  Was the “theory of the case” clear?  Was the “ethos” in the speech too cloying?  It was a fascinating Master Class; perhaps all the more fascinating because Muscatine and Rooney often disagreed.

Our case study is not finished: next week we travel to NRA headquarters in Virginia to meet with NRA President David Keene.  It promises to be a memorable highlight.

Here are two of the six speeches that the students presented:

Diane Feinstein:

Picture U.S. Troops stopping on the battlefield to reposition their AK-47s. The battlefield. That is the place for assault rifles. Not in our neighborhoods. Not in our restaurants. Not in our movie theaters. Not in our schools. And especially not here in Toledo, Ohio. 

Mere weeks ago, a lone gunman wandered into this peaceful neighborhood armed with an AK-47 and took 38 innocent lives before taking his own. Such tragedies would never reach that scale if he hadn’t been carrying a military grade killing machine.

And let’s be reasonable. Why would you the teacher, you the coffee shop owner, you the mailman–why would you need an assault rifle, a weapon, not designed for hunting or even self-protection but rather for killing on a massive scale? It’s unreasonable, it’s unnecessary, it’s un-American.

I respect and understand the need to feel protected as I used to own a gun myself and the Assault weapons ban wont take that away.

My colleague might have you believe that we want to take away all your guns but in fact there will still be a reasonable selection of guns for self protection.  But let’s be clear, we don’t need an AK-47.

That’s why our assault weapons ban has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and why it will get through Congress. It’s the first step in making our country a place where you can drop your daughter off in the morning knowing you will pick her up in the afternoon. A place where a trip to the mall doesn’t turn into a nightmare. A place where you can feel comfortable taking your family to a restaurant.

[Pause]

I think every night of the victims of Aurora, Newtown and Toledo. I too have felt the effects of gun violence in my personal life. I fear what might happen if we don’t pass this assault weapons ban. 30,000 people die every year from gun violence. That’s like filling up the Cleveland Cavaliers stadium almost twice. 30000 people die and many more friends and family members experience the pain I did. Because Its no longer about how your country takes away your guns. It’s about what your guns do to your country.

Not only are their thousands of heart wrenching personal stories but the Assault weapons ban makes sense on a larger scale. One out of every five law enforcement officers killed, is killed with an assault weapon. The number of mass shootings per year has doubled since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004.

Your children’s future is in your hands. Now is the time to take action. This is when democracy counts. Call your Senator, and demand that he or she pass the bill. Send letters. Be persistent. Make your voice heard. Raise an outcry so large that it cannot be silenced. we have waited long enough.

Ted Cruz:

Today, I am honored and humbled to stand before you not as politician, but as a devoted father and American. I pray for the strength of the families and communities that are suffering this great loss. The horrific mass shooting that took place here in Toledo, Ohio only days ago, weighs on the spirit of all citizens. We are by your side. America is by your side.

I am not here to garner support for legislation.  I am not here to present yet another interpretation of the Constitution — I am here because I believe that something is wrong; I believe that Americans are tired of the political rhetoric that is failing to protect our children. For far too long, lawyers, lobbyists and congressmen have debated gun control.  But this is an issue that involves everyday Americans.

And in the midst of these everyday Americans are people like your loved ones whose lives were cut too short.  A six year old boy who will never experience the joy of finishing school, finding his first love, starting a family of his own one day; an 83 year old woman who did not have the chance to say goodbye to her children and grandchildren.

We must recognize that a ban on assault weapons would not have saved your loved ones.  Criminals will have guns whether they are legal or not.   We need to solve the issue at its very roots by fostering a nation where one does not need to live their daily life in fear.  When a crazed gunman walks into a public place, everyone around him is helpless.  Our goal is not to arm the public.  Our goal is to empower the public and ensure that we have the choice to hold our safety in our own hands.   We must be just as capable of protecting ourselves as criminals are capable of hurting us.

Today I am here to defend you.  I am here to tell you that further gun law regulations will not keep our neighborhoods any safer than they are now.  This is not a time for pretending that if weapons are banned they will disappear.  Just take a look at the 31 states that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons — they have a violent crime rate 24% lower than states that do not.  Our opposing advocates would have us believe that firearms are only tools of murder.  What our outspoken friends ignore is that guns are used for self-defense more than 2 million times a year.  That’s almost 5 times more than they are used for violent crimes.

I wish that we lived in a world where men were governed by angels.  But as James Madison said, the sad reality is that we do not.  We cannot expect that criminals will simply throw down their weapons at the passing of legislation.  We should not believe that the existence of guns is the root of the problem.  Let us fight against those who glorify violence.  Let us fight against parental neglect in the home.  Let us fight against economic desperation, failed education, and a lack of opportunity.  Let us strike down the very things that drive Americans to seek violence as a solution.  But let us not strike down the constitutional right we have to protect ourselves.  Banning assault rifles will only take guns out of our hands, law abiding citizens, and place our fate in the hands of those who can do great harm.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not ban assault weapons. Let us not eliminate our right to own weapons and with it our right to self-defense.  No, let us create an America where our safety is not a hope, but a reality.

Apr 12, 2013

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  1. Pingback: Gedye ’14 Redefines Activism

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