Tuesday, December 1, 2015

LD Jan/Feb 2016 - Handguns Ought To Be Banned - Introduction


Resolved: In the United States, private ownership of handguns ought to be banned

Foreword

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.


Definitions

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.

private ownership
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.

handgun(s)
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 to
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.

be banned
To be banned means to be prohibited by law. Basically it means to be made illegal.

And So...

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.

14 comments:

  1. Great insight! I like that you and I both agree on how narrow the topic is.

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  2. Great topic breakdown. I'm thinking of spinning John Locke to work on AFF by explaining that it's the people who've violated the social contract and then argue that the governments interference is justified.

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    1. That could be risky, since some lay judges don't know what the heck you're talking about. I'm running a traditional AFF but implementing some util and Locke in there, so judges can tell.

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  3. A definition you could use would be in defining a handgun, such that you could say that shotguns, assault rifles, and hunting rifles would not be banned.

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  4. Nice topic breakdown i was wondering when your positions will come out.

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  5. I feel like theres really no weight in defining a lot of thing since this topic is so straight forward. Would defining ought and handgun be enough?

    Also, I know judge bias is going to be HUGE with the whole Liberal vs Conservative dispute on gun control. Is there anyway I can put in an observation something that will keep the judge more neutral and open?

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    1. Observations won't really help you if you're judge is already going to be somewhat biased. Putting an observation at the beginning of your case isn't going to change the way any lay judge views the round paradigmatically.

      I would advise just going for a really intuitive position without too much framework. Emphasizing a philosophical framework in your case would be really risky on this topic because the conflict between libertarian/rights based and util really shows up politically on this topic.

      While the core util position generally goes aff, while the rights/lib position generally goes neg, there are definitely decent turns on each side. If you're debating in front of lay judges, I would recommend going for a super generic, inclusive framework, and reading offense that links under both frameworks.

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  6. I ran Social Darwinism for a reason that handguns should be banned. I thought it would be awful but the sad thing is if people argue that banning guns save lives, then my case allows for a quick and easy counter to that by replying that saving lives isn't always the greatest good. (I also ran some rousseauian philosophy). What do you think of that idea in an actual tournament?

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    1. Don't run that in front of parent judges but in front of more circuity, flow judges it could be strategic. Just don't read it against an oppression aff..

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  7. Thank you for your comments. They are helpful for our new team of debaters as they formulate their arguments on this topic. Also, the assumption that less handguns = less deaths is a hasty generalization. Be sure your debaters draw clear links to that argument otherwise they can be attacked easily with current evidence and analysis.

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  8. For this res. ive heard both sides be read with a social contract value. The Aff stating that the gov isnt doing its general welfare duties by allowing guns. The neg saying about protection of property rights. Another thing you could say from the neg is that it disarms the people and disallows just revolt

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  9. I was wondering why no Affirmative or Negative analysis was ever posted for this topic?

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    1. Fair question. It is a pretty good topic that needed a thorough analysis. But, before I could finish researching it, some personal issues got in the way which coincided with a very busy period of large and important tournaments for our team. I prioritized my family and my team and before I knew it, I was more than a month behind. I apologize.

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    2. Thanks for the reply. I respect your need to prioritize and appreciate all the work you do for debaters.

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