Community members join in debate about gun control

A debate hosted by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, was held to allow students and community members to learn about both sides of the debate on gun control.

In light of recent events and legislation concerning the issue of gun control in the United States, campus and Syracuse community members came together last week to voice their opinions on the subject.

“It is my duty to protect my child,” said a mother in the audience, holding back tears. “If someone broke into my house and I used more than seven bullets to stop him, does it make me a criminal?”

“Gun control, in a lot of ways, it has not gone far enough, so I am not whole heart in favor of what has been passed only because I think we can do more.”
Kate McNeely, Maxwell graduate student

A debate panel was held about gun control Friday, hosted by Maxwell School as part of the Campbell Debates. The debate focused on the NY Safe Act, which was recently passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January.

NY Safe Act, or the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, is a gun control law passed earlier this year. It banned firearms with high-capacity magazines and reduces the maximum capacity from 10 rounds to seven. The act also puts restrictions on the access to guns and requires back checking of gun owners and ammunition dealers. Also the penalty for gun crimes has been increased. As a response to the tragedy happened in Newtown, the act takes guns away from gun owners who have mental disabilities and may be a threat to public safety.

The auditorium was full of people from the community who have concerns about gun control. The debate lasted an hour and a half, while brilliant political insights and intense discussion bounced around the room.

Robert Spitzer, distinguished service professor and chair of the political science department at State University of New York at Cortland and Leah Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers against Gun Violence joined the panel. On the other side of the debate was John Lott, an economist and political commentator and Will Barclay, a member of the New York State Assembly.

Barrett, the executive director of New Yorkers against Gun Violence and supporter of the act, said relatively strict gun control laws will decrease medical and prison costs. She said 92 percent of American citizens agree with a criminal background check for gun owners. Barrett also gave the successful example of similar gun control law in Australia and stated that after the law passed, gun crimes have effectively dropped. Self-defense is not a valid reason to oppose safe act, she said.

“Nancy Lanza, the mother of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, was a gun owner, but she didn’t protect herself, did she?” said Barrett. Gun owners risk higher suicide rate then non-gun owners, she said. 

“Lives across the country will be saved,” Barrett said. “Americans need to be educated about how dangerous guns are. What kind of society that we want to live in? Why should people have guns with them to feel safe? ”

Spitzer, the political science professor, also said that gun is not the only self-defense methods that people can seize, and there are other ways, like alarm systems or even dogs that people can use. The purpose of the legislation is to restrict criminals’ access to guns.

“It is not a perfect piece of legislation, but definitely it is a good piece of legislation,” said Spitzer.

However, on the other side, Barclay, the New York Assemblyman, said the law has been pasted so quickly that there was no input from citizens or experts and it is governor’s full response. He also said background checking doesn’t make people safer, because people still have alternative ways to purchase weapons, like the internet.

“Unfortunately we see this time in time in legislation, whenever there was a tragedy; it is natural that people want answers, Barclay said. They want to prevent these tragedies from happening again. And this is where problem is. Very often, the legislation wants to act and unfortunately it is a bad legislation.”

Lott, the economist and political commentator, also argued that the act makes guns more expensive and it will largely affect poor, minority groups in suburban areas.

“It disarms people to protect themselves,” said Lott. He also gave an example from the UK. When the government in the UK banned guns, there was a dramatic drop in gun crime. But he said the law was not fully responsible for the drop, instead at the same time, the UK had increased the police force by 18 percent.

Kate McNeely, a Maxwell graduate student, attended to the event. She said she cares deeply about urban social issues and thinks New York State is interesting because it has both New York City and Upstate regions, which results in very diverse views throughout the state.

“I do support the Safe Act,” McNeely said. “Gun control, in a lot of ways, it has not gone far enough, so I am not whole heart in favor of what has been passed only because I think we can do more,” said McNeely.

Steve Kush, another attendee who goes against the law, started to learn about guns when he was only a kid. Kush grew up in a family that enjoyed the outdoors, hunting and fishing. He was taught how to use guns by his father, he thinks knows how to use guns respectfully and in a very safe manner. 

“It is an insult of our Second Amendment right as American citizens,” Kush said. “It is no different than if the government decided to ban a publication, like Time magazine. If I hand you a machine gun, I bet you won’t start shooting people, will you?”

Kevin Dix, a retired deputy sheriff, has a lifelong relationship with guns. Being deeply involved with firearms, he said he opposes the Safe Act. “There are some portions of Safe Act should be made into law, and it is incredible, but the majority of the Safe Act has no actual impact on criminals and crime,” Dix said.





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