Posted on Mar 15, 2023

For our in-person meeting on March 15, club member Kip Turain moderated a two-way discussion about the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution as viewed from the perspective of Rotary’s 4-Way Test.  Sam Kornfeld, a local attorney with experience in defending 2nd Amendment cases, explained the rights and privileges of gun owners under current federal law.  Club member Bill Timpson, speaking from long-standing experience in conflict mediation and resolution, presented the case for making changes in regulation of gun ownership. 

Kip started the program with a brief description of how the program would work (5-minute presentation from each, 3-minute follow-on remarks from each, responses to written queries from the audience, 1-minute closing remarks from each), followed by a rapid, word-rich summary of the history of gun legislation/laws in the US, from the approval of the constitution in 1787 to a 2008 case involving the District of Columbia that addressed some specific restrictions. 
Mr. Kornfeld started by summarizing his evolution from being against guns to, as a lawyer, feeling that firearms are a public necessity.  Under Question One of the 4-Way Test “Is it true?” he asserted that the Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment, were meant to preserve God-given or pre-existing human rights.  Rather than granting these enumerated rights the Bill of Rights prevent the government interfering with the exercise of these rights.  The 2nd Amendment, at the time of its adoption, placed a limit on federal power but said nothing about the power of the states.  Only with the passage of the 14th Amendment , and the Supreme Court Case of McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, did the 2nd Amendment apply to the states.  In the Bruen case, last year, the Supreme Court determined that historical tradition of firearm regulation was the correct test to evaluate if a law was an infringement under the 2nd Amendment.  As Federal law currently sits, you may buy as many weapons as you desire as long as you are not a convicted felon, a domestic abuser, or one of a small list of other restricted groups.  Under Question Two of the 4-Way Test “Is it fair?” he concluded his opening remarks by stating that gun control has commonly been applied in a racist and discriminatory fashion in America’s history.
Mr. Timpson began his discussion with a brief summary of his work, starting with teaching in a dangerous part of Cleveland where he could not go at night and where there were gunshot deaths every weekend.  Later, on a Fulbright Fellowship, he was involved in studying their impact of guns during the centuries-long conflict in Northern Ireland.  In 1998, after decades of violence between the Protestants and the Catholics, a grassroots women’s peace movement emerged representing both sides of the conflict (Mairead Maquire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in this movement) got together to push a Culture of Peace, resulting in the banning of guns and shifting of money (much of it from the US) from support of violence to support of economic development and peace-building projects.  Through the use of case studies and problem-based learning, we can see how the two sides were opened to seeing the common ground that they shared rather than the differences that separated them – not just “is it the truth” but also whose truth is it?  The re-direction of outside funds led to businessmen creating training for young men, Protestants and Catholics working side-by-side as well as communication training for former adversaries to meet and learn about each other. 
In his follow-on remarks, Mr. Kornfeld, focusing on Question Three of the 4-Way Test “good will & better friendships?”, suggested that an armed society is a polite society.  He pointed out that the old adage “if you ban guns, that the only people wo will have guns are the criminals” is not a modern ad campaign developed by the NRA.  It is a quote from a 1764 work by Cesare Beccaria called “Crime and Punishment”, not to be confused with Dostoyevsky’s mid-1800 novel.  Berccaria’s book, and its ideas, were well known to the Founding Fathers, who owned multiple copies, in several languages, and placed a copy in the Library of Congress.  The adage has also been born out by the failure of Prohibition in the 1929s and the war on drugs today. 
Under Question Four of the 4-Way Test, “beneficial to all concerned?”, in the US today we have unprecedented freedoms, but with those freedoms comes responsibilities.  Namely, the responsibility of self-protection.  In the 2005 case of Castle Rock v. Gonzales the Supreme Court reaffirmed that police have no duty to protect individual citizens.  Law enforcement organizations are there to protect the peace, not to protect individuals within the society.  In fact, the only time when one of those organizations is required to protect specific individuals is when those individuals are in custody. 
Mr. Timpson returned to the experience in Northern Ireland, where the cooperation between the two sides, in part enhanced by art projects that focused on victims and the stories they could tell as well as by integration of some of the schools (Protestant and Catholic children in the same schools) which, for example, led to the evolution of attitudes as seen on the “Wall of Martyrs” philosophy of protect yourself to a more community-based attitude that is beneficial to all concerned. 
Questions:  Japan, with guns tightly regulated, is a safe land of little fear.  Timpson suggested that this resulted, in part, from consciousness of the impact of Hiroshima.  Kornfeld suggested that that this results from traditional values that they support each other. 
QUESTION: Given the military establishment that we have, do we need a militia to protect us from foreign powers?  Kornfeld pointed out that the failure of the government was not the sole reason for the 2nd Amendment, and that it supported self-defense as a necessary right.  Timpson pointed to S. Korea, where even the South Korean Army officers in his class on peacemaking at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies in Seoul were not worried about N. Korea, but were more interested in Germany and its lessons for reuniting the two Koreas.  Also, Timpson noted that hunting rifles are strictly regulated in Korea, kept at the local police station until checked out for hunting season. 
QUESTION: How can we reconcile the 2008 Scalia (Textualist and Originalist) decision that seems to change the “collective rights” view of the 20th century to the individual rights to bear arms?  Kornfeld avers that the courts will not answer a constitutional question if they can get out of it.  Thus, the Supreme Court had not answered that question until the Heller case 2008.  It was the lower courts that primarily developed the “collective rights” theory of the 2nd Amendment.  In Heller, the Supreme Court confirmed that the “collective rights” view was incorrect and that the 2nd Amendment addresses an individual right to bear arms.  Timpson, returning to Ireland, pointed out that “The Troubles” continued as long as the British military supported the Protestants; once they left, grass-roots public engagement and redirection of foreign funds have allowed for new development. 
Why can’t we ban assault weapons?  Kornfeld pointed out that the Supreme  Court had determined that the Bill of Rights applies to the modern world, such as the internet, motor vehicles, electricity, as well as modern rifles.  Further complicating the issue is the lack of a true definition for an “assault weapon”.  The term is derived from the military designation of assault rifles, which delineated large, full-size battle rifles from smaller, select-fire assault rifles.  So small in fact that it is unlawful to hunt deer with an AR-15 in many states, including Colorado, because of concerns that the animal’s life would be inhumanly prolonged after being shot.  In addition, most efforts to define “assault weapons” have focused on cosmetic features instead of functional aspects.  Thus, legislative action against “assault weapons” is bogged down on what guns look scary and fails to gain bipartisan support.  Timpson, referring to the dramatic impact of the nation seeing the horrific injuries to Emmet Till in his open coffin, suggests that the nation needs to see many open coffins for individuals killed by AR-15s. 
How do we balance the idea that guns are for self-defense with the fact that significant gun violence is initiated by the shooter?  Kornfeld disputed the assertion within the question and countered that most gun uses arise when a defensive shooter reacts to a threat.  Timpson, taking a broader view, reports that civil wars produce an environment with lots of weapons and that requires that the society exercise great care in dealing with those weapons in the aftermath. 
Kornfeld, in closing, asserted that countries that more tightly controlled guns are all smaller and less diverse than the US and, in the case of Ireland, it is richer, on average, than the US.  Timpson, referring to a trip to Thailand when they had a period of dramatic unrest, talked about physical barriers and troops with guns, but that local Rotary clubs had provided flowers to stick in the barrels of the guns to de-escalate the tension. 
And finally, in closing out the session, Kip referred to a book on how to read the Constitution.  Part of the effort required to solve the problems that we have with respect to guns is where to draw the lines.  Also, the membership was reminded of Rotary International's guiding words, "Solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”