Democrats, Republicans debate gun control in Chicago

By Abby Seiff

The University of Chicago Democrats (UC Dems) and the College Republicans faced off last Wednesday evening over the issue of gun control in Chicago. The Democrats were represented by second-year in the College Josh Mellen and third-year Tim Fletcher, while second-year Kason Kimberley and third-year Mihai Sturdza spoke for the Republicans. A handful of impromptu floor speakers clashed over crime-rate statistics, constitutional law, and the inner workings of the criminal mind, discussing the pros and cons of a conceal-carry law.

In the Republicans’ opening statement, Kimberley proposed that a conceal-carry law lowers crime rate because people are less likely to engage in criminal acts if they know their victim might be similarly armed—”it’s a matter of deterrence,” Kimberley argued. When a potential victim is able to pull a gun on his assailant, “brandishing the weapon is almost always enough to deescalate the situation,” Kimberley said. “There are so few circumstances when the gun actually has to be used—we think there’s virtually no risk of harm,” he added.

Sturdza echoed this philosophy, arguing that the side effect of increased violence—warned against by Democrats—was not an issue. “The majority of crimes drop because no one even approaches them with a gun,” Sturdza said. “The first person never even points a gun at the other.”

The Republicans argued for lifting a current gun ban that prevents citizens from self-protection when confronted by armed assailants. They cited the absence of police in high-crime areas, minorities targeted by hate crimes, and evidence of decreased violence in areas with conceal-carry laws. The Democrats countered by employing numbers that suggested an escalation of violence that would result in a virtual arms race if the ban were lifted. The Democrats also speculated on the obsolete nature of aspects of the Second Amendment.

The Democrats relied on a pragmatic argument, calling upon experiential facts. They also employed axioms such as, “There hasn’t been a great public outcry for guns, so why should we push it?” and “If I show you my gun and you show me your gun it escalates the situation; if I don’t brandish a gun, I won’t get hurt.” In contrast, the Republicans’ argument was mainly predicated on the theoretical issue of deterrence.

Each side permitted three speeches, three-minutes long, from audience members. Two of the most spirited speeches came from a UIC Engineering Senior and National Guardsman, Forrest Penn, and his father, a former Chicago Police Officer and ex-gun control advocate. The younger Penn touched on the elitism of the Chicago system, where Aldermen are permitted to carry guns, but citizens are not, and he offered multiple comparative statistics showing how violence decreases in cities where conceal-carry laws are enacted. The elder Penn discussed constitutional issues at stake, and that illegalizing guns would have no impact for criminals who wished to attain guns. “It would not matter to me a whit if gun control didn’t work. I took an oath on the constitution,” Penn said, and called nearly everything said by “gun-grabbers” a “lie or distortion.”

The Democrats, however, noted the Second Amendment, arguing against inflexible views on the Constitution. “There has been a devolution of the Second Amendment,” said Phil Caruso, a second-year in the College, in his rebuttal to Penn on behalf of the Democrats. Caruso then focused on Chicago, explaining how groups like the NRA push the rural Illinois minority to lobby for gun laws that affect the majority of urban-dwellers. Fletcher called the Second Amendment “archaic” in light of non-lethal defense technology now available, such as tasers and mace. In the Democrats’ final statement, Mellen explained how a well-ordered militia is not necessary for society’s upkeep: “This is not up to vigilantes; this is the police’s job.”

Rico Gardaphe, a second-year in the College and a member of the UC Dems, served as debate moderator. Gardaphe refused to take a side but, admitted, “Because [the Republicans] base was much bigger, they had much better floor speeches.”

The general consensus among the audience in Bartlett Lounge after the debate was that the Republicans had won. “I think the Republicans busted a cap in [the Democrats’] ass,” said Sam Dolgin-Gardener, a first-year in the College and a Democrat. “The Republicans did a great job of framing the debate.” Dolgin-Gardener lauded the Republicans for leading the debate and criticized the Democrats for addressing their opponents’ points rather than bringing up substantial, separate proof of their own case.