No part of our Constitution has generated more emotion than the Second Amendment. From school shootings to Charlton Heston’s famous rallying cry (“From my cold, dead hands!”), our debate over guns hits at our national core.
This week we met with three leading voices on different sides of that debate: an NRA past President, a leading Constitutional attorney, and a local activist. Their arguments bolstered our students’ critical thinking skills and brought nuance and complexity to their understanding.
We began with an overview of the federal judicial process and the landmark 2008 DC v. Heller Supreme Court case. That case guaranteed the right to own a handgun for the purposes of self defense. It turned on Justice Scalia’s famous interpretation of the Amendment’s “operative clause,” and students left the overview with a better understanding of (and perhaps more questions about) that argument.
Our first guest speaker was former NRA President David Keene, who has spoken with SEGL students since 2013. His grandfatherly affect and tightly-constructed talking points gave our students (many of whom are gun control advocates) a window into the NRA mindset. The conversation also included questions about the future of the conservative movement and the affect COVID-19-related government policies have for civil liberties. (Keene was, until recently, the opinion page editor for the conservative-leaning Washington Times.)
Our second speaker was longtime SEGL favorite (and Golden Mug winner) Clark Neily, who is Vice President for Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, the nation’s leading libertarian think-tank. Neily organized the Heller case, recruiting plaintiffs and serving as co-counsel in the Supreme Court oral arguments. His compelling (dare we say disarming?) answers to student questions and his clear explanation of his libertarian-based viewpoint on Heller captivated students and made many question their assumptions about the Second Amendment. He also sprinkled in some fascinating stories about his other legal work.
Our final speaker was Greg Jackson, National Advocacy Director for the Community Justice Action Fund. Jackson, himself a survivor of gun violence, shared his organization’s grassroots strategies for ending gun violence, particularly in communities of color. His perspective brought students out of the halls of power and onto the streets, where he thinks students will find the best solutions and leaders. His upbeat, accessible manner welcomed students into the conversation and his approach pushed their thinking about the best ways to–as Jackson’s shirt read–#endgunviolence.
This week also brought more fun photos of chore and exercise block activities, along with increasing student initiative to make the most of their quarantines. Next week will be a real blockbuster, with perhaps more academic highlights than ever before. Stay tuned!