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Need to Know: April 26, 2013: Debating the Second Amendment

With the gun control debate raging after the mass school shooting in Newtown, CT, Need to Know examines the history of the Second Amendment and how it shapes the discussion today.

Ray Suarez anchors a panel including: George Mason Law School professor Joyce Lee Malcolm, former New York Times foreign correspondent and editor Craig Whitney, and Fordham University history professor Saul Cornell.

Read the transcript

Above: Listen to the full, unedited audio of the roundtable discussion.


Debating the Second Amendment: Roundtable participants

George Mason Law School professor Joyce Lee Malcolm, former New York Times foreign correspondent and editor Craig Whitney, and Fordham University history professor Saul Cornell parse American history for the founder’s intentions.

Gun policy

Over the last few years, dozens of states have significantly rolled back gun restrictions.  John Larson traveled to Virginia to see what’s known as the “open carry” movement first-hand. And, Larson talks with Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America about life after Newtown.

Five federal policies on guns you’ve never heard of

ProPublica reports on five under-the-radar gun laws.

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  • Bill Tiwald

    I wanted Joyce Lee Malcolm to just shut up.

  • Just.A.Guy

    Who is crazy? A law abiding instrument.

    Both sides of the debate keep putting forward the same arguments. One side hopes for change. The other side hopes nothing will change. If we keep the same positions and repeat it time and again and expect change, they call you crazy.

    One side says people kill people. The other side says guns kill people, so we have to limit access to guns or the some types of guns. These positions will not change. People with consistent anti civil desires will find a way to get around laws.

    We are looking for an “all or nothing” solution. .

    We have had a similar situation with regard to automobiles. Get the drunks off the road. People kill people with cars; no cars kill people.

    We finally realized that we can not change people or their behavior. What did we do? We mandated air-bags, and other safety improvements. Did this occur in a single moment. No. It took years. Did this eliminate automobile deaths? No.

    We should seek a solution similar to air-bags. It will not stop people who
    plan and deliberately murder someone. But it might reduce some types
    of gun violence (e.g. mass shooting in public places).

    The gun has not kept up with technology. Most guns still use mechanical mechanisms that result in the flight of the bullet head.

    Today the “fire by wire” mechanism already exists. You can buy a rifle that
    you aim. And when you pull the trigger it will not fire until the position of the weapon is in just right location to hit the target.

    This technology, can improve the safety of weapons.
    Gun makers should be commanded to slowly introduce the
    mechanism into each weapon. In a few years it should not
    be possible to buy a gun that does not have this technology.

    This technology can be enhanced, by using GPS capabilities
    so that it knows where it is. This is a “passive capability”. It
    does not broadcast where it is located. It only gains the information
    on its current location.

    Finally, large public places need to be equipt with broadcast capabilities
    that identify their area as a sensitive area. The weapon
    is then instructed via logic, not to fire in these areas. All that the gun is doing
    is abiding by the laws that are dictated in the local area.

    This is no different than collecting guns when entering a town.
    The gun is no longer a “dumb” instrument, subject to the
    whims of the person pulling the trigger.

    Go outside of the sensitive area and the gun acts just
    like the old mechanical instrument. Farmers and sportsmen
    should have no problem. If a person has a gun in their
    home for protection, it should operate correctly.

    This eliminates the need for background checks, and a
    database of registration. The gun becomes a law abiding instrument.
    It does not matter who owns it, or how it was obtained.

    Of course this is too radical of an idea to be made real. But I
    offer it as a stepping stone, that might lead to a better solution
    to the situation. I am tired of seeing a crazy society.

  • M. Dash

    The NTK discussion failed to mention that a major purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to preserve Southern slave patrols and thus gain Southern votes. See this article by Thom Hartmann:

  • noel

    Ms. Malcom correctly stated history and an intelligent view of this issue. The right to keep and bear arms is an individual right and must remain so. Those of us who are non NRA members will become more outspoken as attempts are made to infringe this right..

  • Neall West

    The main problem with this technology is that it is cost prohibitive and millions of guns have already been sold that don’t have it. Requiring it for all guns is paramount to instituting a giant tax on gun purchases such that many people who live in neighborhoods where crime is prevalent (read: lower income areas) would no longer be able to afford the means to protect themselves and their families.

  • Anonymous

    Two contributors make basic factual errors. These errors of fact are so glaring as to undermine the contributors’ credibility. An astronomer, who declares that the Sun revolves around the Earth would not be – and does not deserve to be – taken seriously.

    Prof. Malcolm states that the National Firearms Act (48 Stat. 1236, enacted on June 26, 1934) banned machineguns. Not so!!! The National Firearms Art imposed a $200 transfer tax on transfers of machineguns (and short-barreled rifles/shotguns, and sound suppressors) between a dealer and a retail customer. In many states (e.g. New Hampshire, Vermont, Florida, etc.), private persons can – and do – lawfully own machineguns.

    Craig Whitney states that the 1968 Gun Control Act, “….set up a requirement that if you’re in the business of selling guns, you have to be federally registered.” Not so!!! The Federal Firearms Act (52 Stat. 1250, June 30, 1938) created a Federal Firearms dealer’s license. The 1968 enactment expanded the controls on firearms, but it emphatically did not create licensure for firearms dealers.

    These are major errors. It is both sad and shocking that these “experts” do not know the provisions of fundamental Federal enactments relating to firearms.

    You should infer from the legal references to Statutes at Large – wherein are published substantially all laws enacted by the US Congress – that my critique is factually sound. You can see the authentic, original texts of the above-cited enactments at (choose the volume and find the page). Both the transcript and the taped show should be annotated to correct these errors.

  • Roland Olson

    I wanted Dorothy to get back to Kansas. It must be hard for you to understand that some academics are .moved by facts and not agenda.

  • ray

    I find it interesting that the NRA and their supporters always refer to the Newtown tragedy when they try to convince the country that background checks would not have prevented this. Conveniently forgetting and simply not caring in the least about the poor brown and black children who have to face the threat of gun violence on a daily basis. It’s obvious that many Americans are not their brother’s keeper, even though they continually reminds how Christian they are. I guess it will take some awful tragedy to the families of the NRA execs. or the families of those who profit greatly from the manufacturing of these weapons before they really care as opposed to the rhetoric and phony lip service they throw out to the victims of these crimes today.

  • Thomas Booker

    You missed the basic difference that defines the current culture war–one part of America wants to see a vigilante force of citizens armed with guns keeping the peace and another (including me) wants a decline in guns’ proliferation as the key to limiting gun violence. All the legislation being considered now has little chance of achieving this limiting, were any of it passed. The most effective action the US can take right now is to buy back guns or have a volunteer turn-in of unused weapons and to seriously debate whether this current proliferation can benefit us.

  • Bob D.

    The panel touched on the milieu of the second amendment’s origin, but only parochially.
    The Contstitution’s framers were influenced by feudal society, in which the privileged class had the right to bear arms personally, and to command armed forces.
    The concept of privilege was abhorrent to some of the revolutionaries, who feared it might manifest itself through a central government, hence the need for the un-privileged, the “people”, to bear arms, especially when needed to from armed forces to repel invasion.
    The second amendment is ambiguous, and ought to be repealed and replaced with an amendment that is explicit and clear within today’s social framework, not within the framework of the eighteenth century.

  • Anonymous

    Ask yourself what would have have happened if the Boston bommers had used freely available AR-15s instead … allot more deaths. Is it not a weapon of mass destruction ? Why are we less fearful of such weapons than a terrorist bomb? .

  • Anonymous

    No one is saying citizens cannot bear arms…(even though it seems the scope of the second amendment was written in support of Malitia in the 18th century). What is happening now is the average citizen of the 21st century may use a weapon of mass destruction (AR-15) whenever they get upset at a group they don’t like. There is a world of difference between those two scenarios. Some refinement and “common sense” controls are required here.

  • Anonymous

    she was arrogant and interuptive.

  • Talon22

    As noted by jaysimskin your contributors made several factual errors. As he stated the The National Firearms Act of 1934 did not ban machineguns from private ownership, nor or they banned today. It is only that none manufactured after May 19th of 1986 can be purchased by private citizens.
    Another aspect leading to the enactment of the 1934 National Firearms Act remains unrecognized and I have seen no mention as to the possibility of a hidden agenda for is enactment. The reason publicized was that these were gangster guns, being used by outlaws and bank robbers of the era and there used in the St. Valentines day massacre of 1929. However, only a hand full of these weapons were ever purchased by the gangsters and robbers, but rater they were stolen from police departments and national guard armories. So this act for the most part only effected law abiding citizens.
    My belief is the actual underlying reason for the enactment of 1934 Firearms Act was due to the Bonus Army’s march on Washington and the bankers plot to enlist them, led by a US Marines General, to over throw the government in 1933.
    Bear in mind that in the 1930′s a Thompson Sub-machine gun was a cutting edge weapon and several thousand of these in the hands of 500,000 WWI veterans could have proved devastating to our military defending Washington.

  • Rogue Rose

    Just to clarify current Federal Law regarding machine guns..

    Federal law under the 1986 Firearms Owners’ Protection Act – FOPA (18 USC § 921 et seq.) strictly regulates machine guns (firearms that fire many rounds of ammunition, without manual reloading, with a single pull of the trigger).

    Among other things, federal law:
    1. requires all machine guns, except antique firearms, not in the U.S. government’s possession to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF);

    2. bars private individuals from transferring or acquiring machine guns except those lawfully possessed and registered before May 19, 1986;

    3. requires anyone transferring or manufacturing machine guns to get prior ATF approval and register the firearms;

    4. with very limited exceptions, imposes a $200 excise tax whenever a machine gun is transferred;

    5. bars interstate transport of machine guns without ATF approval; and

    6. imposes harsh penalties for machine gun violations, including imprisonment of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both for possessing an unregistered machine gun.

    Again, for clarification, there is a requirement for Firearms Dealers to be licensed in The Gun Control Act of 1968, Public Law 90-618 Title I Chapt 44 – Firearms

    § 923. Licensing

    (a) No person shall engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms, or importing or manufacturing ammunition, until he has filed an application with and received a license to do so from the Secretary.(of the Treasury).

  • American Girl

    Do you really think that taking guns away from law abiding citizens will help the “poor brown and black children” when most of them are injured or killed by criminals who DO NOT follow gun laws already? Does it not say in the BIBLE not to kill. I think that would be in the 10 commandants. The criminals don’t even follow those laws. They more than likely ARE NOT Christian. The GUN did not do the killing. It’s the evil person that loads the gun and pulls the trigger. Think about it Raymond. And wishing that injury happens to families of NRA members and execs is sick. Maybe YOU should be black listed and banned from having guns. Also, they DO NOT profit from gun sales.

  • Rogue Rose

    It’s not the NRA who keeps bringing up Newtown, but when others raise the issue it’s important to note that none of the proposed legislation would have done anything to prevent that tragedy. As with the vast majority of crimes committed with guns, they are committed with illegal guns.. So further restrictions on legal gun owners will have little to no impact on the deaths of children of any ethnic group and will only serve to prevent adults from protecting their families from criminals wanting to do them harm. Before limiting a constitutional right we should be sure the proposed restriction will actually accomplish the desired goal.

  • Rogue Rose

    If we want to use the standard of the original milita, that’s fine. Everyone (back then just the menfolk, so of course that will now include women) age 16-45 was required to own a weapon at their own expense and participate in training twice a year. I’d be willing to use that standard.

    The purpose of the 2nd amendment is to protect Americans from government tyranny. It was written by men who had just used their weapons to overthrow their own government and they wanted to ensure that right to all Americans. They well understood the best protection from government tyranny is a well armed citizenry. Study the history of democracies in the 20th Century and count how many fell suddenly to tyranny. It’s a safeguard passed onto us, and we need to pass the same safeguard to future generations.

  • Rogue Rose

    “Buy back” is a misnomer. The guns never belonged to the government so they aren’t able to buy back something they never owned.

  • John

    I am my brother’s keeper, except when my brother is trying to disarm me or otherwise stab me in the back.

  • Rick McDermott

    The Framers also never envisioned the internet, TV, or any of today’s methods of passing information. Should we go back to Town Criers and single page manual press news papers set by hand?

  • JayelK

    My “brothers” (and sisters) believe in Jesus Christ, the US Constitution, liberty, freedom, limited government with fiscal responsibility, free will with personal responsibility, personal charity and service to others, and ability to secure me/mine from anyone wanting to do us harm. Anyone wanting to take away my right to enjoy any of the aforementioned beliefs… is not my “brother”. If you are one wanting to take my rights, the truth is you may end up being the “enemy” of people who value their freedoms.

  • JayelK

    Thomas, NO ONE wants gun violence. However, restricting anyone’s rights to protect themselves, their family, their neighborhood, their state and/or nation, will do nothing to stop gun violence. Rather, perhaps we should investigate and address the root causes for all the violence, not just the tool used in SOME of the violence.
    If we look at some of the major causes, we are looking at a) drug & alcohol dependencies, b) poverty, c) lack of self-respect (aka gang recognition). Perhaps we should direct our government, to help us to address these issues rather than focusing on a tool.

  • Ken ServelloJr

    they banned them from the general pubic, UNLESS you own a FFL……………….

  • Ken ServelloJr

    No, Ray, the NRA teaches SAFE use of firearms and the Constitutional rights to own them…… who is at fault for the shootings? the NRA? YOU?poor brown & black kids? what? asians & whites don’t COUNT? wanna be any MORE racist? The NRA doesn’t profit from anyone selling guns you retard……….. WE the members of the NRA Pay them to protect our rights………….. the NRA helped FREE the slaves…….among other things……. WE blame the criminals,,NOT the gun……………. because we choose common sense, over your lies.

  • Ken ServelloJr

    AS been proven…….4% of americans APPROVE of Obama’s gun grab………..

  • Ken ServelloJr

    Militia is NOT military…….. AR15′s are NOT weapons of mass destruction.they are CIVILIAN rifles…………..NO military USES the AR15…… stop being a dumbass. And the useage of these rifles in crimes amout to 1% of ALL crimes………..Common sense says BLame THE CRIMINALS, NOT the LAW abiding citizen who owns such a fine firearm! . Keep posting garbage, & prove how illiterate you are on these matters.

  • Ken ServelloJr

    ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, max, they could have USED them but didn’t, know why? They never underwent BACKGROUND CHECKS! Because AR15′s are NOT WMDS you jackass liberal.

  • Ken ServelloJr

    NO, Bob, the 2n is CLEAR CUT as can be……… protects our rights…………period.

  • Ken ServelloJr

    how about NO? Most americans do NOT agree with you…………… law abiders under go background checks………….criminals do NOT……………universal one s are a JOKE…impossible………….. and GUN violence? try ALL violence! you keep blaming the gun, what about the asshole misusing it? what about gang violence? liberals simply will never get it………….

  • Ken ServelloJr

    WRONG again.the 2nd amendement did NO SUCH THING…………

  • Ken ServelloJr

    ALL firearms use a mechanical device( trigger ) to make another device, (firing pin) to fire a bullet..NOT a BULLET HEAD,no such thing……fly by wire bulets do NOT exist………….. don’t know what you are smolking, but what you posted is complete garbage………… how about we keep the criminals locked up……the killers in jail, the rapists too…….. til you treat them like criminals, not victims, we;ll keep having these shootings……… criminals dont follow the rules……………. try some COMMON SENSE…………

  • Ken ServelloJr

    things were far better when kids were trained on the usage of firearms…… and kids were drugged off their rockers by their libtard doctors………………

  • Ken ServelloJr

    liberal ones like THIS one lacks facts………….. and is all about their socialist agenda!

  • colohank

    I am baffled as to why Mr. Saurez and the panelists in the program made no effort to discuss or define “well regulated” as it pertains to militias. What is the difference between a militia and a well regulated militia? If there is a distinction, then who is authorized to regulate a well regulated militia? If “well regulated” isn’t an important component of the Second Amendment, then why did the framers state it so prominently as a rationale or justification for the right to bear arms?

  • Anonymous

    there is nothing more American than individual liberty, freedom and the right to defend them, by force if necessary, against criminals, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

  • Anonymous

    In 1791 “well regulated” meant trained.

    The militia clause was an explanation for why they chose to acknowledge the people’s natural right to defend their lives and the state through keeping and bearing arms. Ultimately, the key part of the Amendment is not the explanation, but the acknowledgement.

  • Ms. Sippi

    Hey Max, imagine if they had used freely available pressure cookers….oh wait, they DID use those……are those now classified as weapons of mass destruction?

  • Ms. Sippi

    I have a challenge for gun control advocates…..Why don’t you set an
    example for firearm owners by placing “This is a GUN-FREE home” signs in
    your yard and on your windows? Show America and your neighbors how
    proud you are to stand behind your beliefs. Or are you too afraid to do
    this because you don’t want criminals to know that you are really unarmed?…….think about it.

  • Anonymous

    You miss my point. How many people can a pressure cooker kill in two minutes ? 2 maybe. How many people can an AR-15 kill in two minutes … perhaps 80 ? This is the difference. Yet we spend billions on the first case, and do nothing about the second.

  • Anonymous

    a) How many people per minute do you need to kill to defend yourself ? (That same weapon can be turned against you in the street by an disgruntled person.) b) How many deaths per minute is required to classify it is a WMD ?

    Thanks for respecting my opinion. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I agree with what you state. But the point is, do you allow everyone to own a single shot musket rifle, or an AR-15, or machine guns, or etc.. its a big spectrum. Is escalating the firepower a good thing in civilian? – too many uncontrollable weenies that will mis-use that right.

  • Anonymous

    You make an excellent point, we should carry it to full extent. The government should issue every person an AR-15 and semi-pistol. The number of gun deaths should drop dramatically at that point – right?

  • Oktane Kain


  • Oktane Kain

    Yes, oddly enough it puts us all on a level playing field. Oh most gun deaths are from tiny pistols, not big bad ar 15s, of course you can check the stats yourself if you want…

  • Oktane Kain


  • Oktane Kain

    Don’t forget we needed a job for the gmen because it was the end of prohibition, and the government at that time did not lay people off.

  • Oktane Kain

    As many people try to do me harm. Obviously you are not asingle white female with a child Iin a bad neighborhood.

  • a Vietnam combat veteran

    The fact that the NRA and similar groups resort to gross distortions and outright lies to make their “points” shows that they are either morally bankrupt or easily lead by those who are.

    Criminals won’t submit to background checks, but if those who sell the guns won’t sell without the checks, the guns won;t be sold.

    Weapons don’t kill people on their own, but they do allow a five year old to kill someone across the street, on the other side of a locked door. They do allow someone to kill a group of people in five seconds without even working up a sweat.

    The NRA claims that the problem is not with law abiding gun owners but with the criminals and the mentally ill, but they don’t want any effort made to keep weapons out of the hands of these people.

    The biggest threat to the Second Amendment is the NRA’s aggressive attacks on any attempt to keep weapons away from prople who shouldn’t have them.

    The main thing weapons rights owners should be taught is how to avoid using a weapon unless it is absolutely necessary, and how to tell the difference.

  • Escalate the Game

    My anger. I’m 65 and life hasn’t been what I wanted in terms of my relationships and how institutions and organizations treated me. I suppose a lot of people could say something like that. I always seemed to be able to settle within myself, an inner peace and an inner ability to endure and keep my inner core self from being damaged. I could always reflect inwardly and keep a patient understanding of what has happened to me. I can’t say I always could access the full glow of universal love, but I seemed always to know about it and could find it or remember that I had found it upon times. Anger seems to be the kind of thing that can be dissipated and drained, but still it is hard to drain out that last drop that has some capability to fester. I suppose, only enlightenment can dissipate that last drop buried down deep.

    I grew up in a rural area where there were guns around, but I never remember anybody obsessed with them, or to talk about the Second Amendment. Myself, personally, I just never took to guns, never wanted one and never gave it much thought.

    But, that anger. When I felt like a full member of society, I always gave blood regularly. But one time, when I felt a special social disavowal of my self validity, I told myself: “if I am not a member of this society, I’ll just stop giving blood. It doesn’t deserve my blood.” And to this very day, I have never since given blood and still probably won’t, as that ounce of residual anger still festers there. There just is a dark side to an extreme-reward-system competitive society, with the anger and misgiving that spreads about. The winners must have a complement of losers. Mix in 300,000,000 guns floating about, and not much is going to change. Jesus said it: “Love ye one another.” I’ll take that for advice. Still, something keeps me doling out consequences. The passive expression
    never stops, but what if I were a gun obsessive, that drop of anger festering and then one day, boiling over?


    The entire pro gun anti gun debate is a waste of time. The fact of the matter is that the intent behind the second amendment was for the individual citizen to keep and bear arms and for govt not to infringe on that right, this was stated by the people who drafted it.
    -the 2ndA didn’t grant the right, it’s inalienable just like the others stated in the BOR. It just a no trespass to the govt.
    -no combat troop in the military would follow any order to infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans. I know this because I am one and all share the same mindset. That puts all the muscle on they side of the people.
    -Point I’m trying to make is all laws regarding the people’s right to bear arms are null/void. No one is coming to take “our guns”.
    P.s people who use other countries as examples of what the US should be like…Dont. We have one supreme law it’s the US constitution every public servant is bound by it. America isn’t here to be like other countries. Sounds arrogant, it is…welcome to America

  • grewup and put away my toy gun

    Yo, Bob, amendments have been repealed. The second ain’t sacred. You and your gun buddies are archaic man-childs. Hope you don’t blow your head off.