Resolved: In the United States, private ownership of handguns ought to be banned
This topic is similar to a PF topic debated in September, 2012, "Resolved: Congress should renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban." That particular debate focused on an existing piece of legislation which covered not only a specific, deadly class of firearms but also various equipment and accessories which make rapid-fire shooting and reloading possible. Nearly exact wording to this resolution was used in PF back in 2007 at the NSDA National Tournament, "Resolved: That the private ownership of handguns should be banned in the United States." While Lincoln Douglas has debated nuclear weapons many times, I believe this is the first time it will take on the issue of handgun ownership.
I am not happy about this topic. Not because I don't think gun control could be an interesting debate but rather because this topic appears to be very narrow and fails to deal with the broad issues related to private gun ownership as related to the recent headlines involving mass-shootings across the U.S. Additionally, as narrow as this topic seems to be, it tends to force the Affirmative debater to advocate a position contrary to the commonly held belief American citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Does this mean Aff needs to work within the context of an imaginary world where we can debate what "ought" to be rather than the real-world reality of what is? We shall see where the evidence and philosophy takes us. First, let's look at the wording of the resolution.
In the United States
This term needs no definition. The United States is the nation comprised of the fifty states, one of which, you will be residing in if you are a United States high-school debater. The main point of specifying, "in the United States" is to limit the scope of the debate to the U.S. only. Therefore, while the debate can be generalized to a certain degree, it is intended to be focused directly upon the jurisdiction of the U.S.
These terms, as defined in the Collins English Dictionary, define a state of being owned by a private individual or entity as opposed to owned by a public entity or the state. Now we can break it down even farther and say "private" means "for use of a single person or group" and "ownership" is the state or fact of belonging to oneself (both definitions by Merriam Webster). This is very closely related to the concept of private property which is as you may surmise, property (items, things, etc.) rightfully possessed by an individual or group (see for example, the Business Dictionary.) I use the word 'rightfully' because when one 'possesses' private property, presumably, one is granted all legal rights to the item. As a Lincoln Douglas debater you may already understand the right to property to be a natural right under Lockean ideology. Further, under many Lincoln Douglas constructs, some private property may be forfeited for some causes or the ownership of certain kinds of property may be restricted by the state in the interests of utility or government legitimacy. Thus, private ownership can be summarized as the legal right of a private individual to possess something.
Technically this word defines a firearm designed to be held in the hand. Merriam Webster specifies a firearm intended to be fired with one hand. This very much matches the ATF definition of a 'pistol'. While many guns in this classification can be gripped and operated with both hands, generally, guns which are typically braced or secured by use of a shoulder stock or other forms of support are not included. Thus, most rifles (including assault rifles) and shotguns, are not considered handguns. The fact a weapon may be single-shot, semi-automatic or fully automatic makes no difference.
Ought is derived from the root word "owe" which conveys the sense of duty of obligation. As I have said many times and continue to say, while ought may be seen as equivalent to the word "should" and there is no real harm to interpreting it that way, ought does lend some validation to affirmative claims we should consider an obligatory, alternative point of view.
To be banned means to be prohibited by law. Basically it means to be made illegal.
There seems to be little we can squeeze from the interpretation of the words of the resolution. It means pretty much exactly what is says. Within the jurisdiction of the United States, it ought to be illegal for private individuals to own handguns. One of the difficulties I perceive immediately is, why handguns as opposed to other forms of firearms, such as semi-automatic assault rifles? Perhaps we can make the claim handguns are usually smaller and so easily concealable and so something inherent in that quality justifies the Aff position. Of course, debating handguns avoids the need to argue against most sporting and hunting weapons which can trigger all kinds of defensive knee-jerk reactions in some judges. On the other hand, if all the Neg chooses to debate is the second amendment, I can't imagine two months of that debate even with all the possible permutations of counter-interpretations Aff can spin over language such as a "well regulated militia" or "infringed". Even more troubling will be the difficulty in finding good, non-biased evidence to support either side. In my opinion, the most interesting debate will take place outside of the legal framework of constitutional law and focus on the rationality of private gun ownership in 21st century U.S.A. However, by suggesting my preference I also reveal my own desire for a much broader debate which goes beyond handguns as commonly defined.
This topic will require some in-depth research so don't expect to see positions come-out too quickly. I will cover the obvious arguments but I also want to find some way to take this topic beyond the most obvious positions.