After a busy fall semester that included a massive voter registration drive and watch parties for the presidential debates and election night, the College Democrats and College Republicans have shifted their focus this semester away from electoral politics to achieving their common goal of increasing political engagement on campus. This week, they hosted a debate that pitted two teams against each other on a controversial subject in a forum that made room for audience participation.
Moderated by Professor Phil Klinkner of the Government Department, the two teams of students were asked to address the topic of gun control in the context of the recent executive orders and legislative proposals put forth by the Obama administration in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy last December.
Both teams came out swinging with their opinions on the matter. The Republicans, represented by Sarah Larson ’15, Brady Sprague ’15 and Patrick Bedard ’14, quickly raised concerns about a lack of empirical evidence that the president’s specific proposals would have any effect on gun violence in the United States and questioned the constitutionality of some of the proposals.
Meanwhile the Democrats, represented by Jake London ’14, Keara Fenzel ’14 and Deborah Roney ’15 cited the loopholes in current gun regulations that need to be addressed, as well as the continuing incidents of gun violence that require preventative action in order to protect innocent lives. Both sides supplied a wealth of information in the form of facts, statistics and the citing of court cases and anecdotes that made points clear and concise.
After opening statements and rebuttals, the audience also had a chance to interact with the discussion by posing questions to the student teams during a 20 minute question and answer session moderated by Professor Klinkner. Audience members on both sides of the topic asked pointed questions that got to the heart of the debate’s most contentious points including questions about firearms as tools of self-defense and the best steps to be taken to prevent school shooting.
Those in the audience were also invited to join in the conversation online by adding their own thoughts and opinions to Hamilton’s new social media tool, the Scroll. Using ‘#HCdebate,’ a steady stream of student-generated content online accompanied the debate in real-time.
By the end of the debate, a few points of bipartisan agreement had been reached. Both the Democrats and Republicans agreed that the 2nd Amendment has some limitations. For example, no private citizen should be in possession of nuclear weapons. Both sides also approved of a renewed commitment to supporting individuals struggling with mental illness. There also seemed to be a consensus that the topic of gun control should not be closed for discussion in political gridlock.
Heading to the Little Pub for some post-debate informal discussions, members of both groups talked about further bi-partisan ways to approach such a serious topic. Perhaps the thing to take away from the night is that this generation of Hamilton politicos is willing to discuss contentious issues and work for better solutions.