Students from the argumentative theory course gathered for a passionate All-American gun control debate on Thursday afternoon in Science 2.
The debate was designed to mimic the presidential debates, with moderator Anthony Mattis, a senior majoring in sociology, firing questions to both opponents on the issue of whether the United States federal government should strengthen regulations on gun control. The topics included the ban on assault rifles, background checks and eligibility for gun owners.
On one side was Dan Gruza, a freshman majoring in physics, arguing for stronger gun control, and in opposition was Jon Speidel, a sophomore majoring in geography. While both offered support for their respective stances, they agreed on many fundamental issues.
“[The issue of gun control] should not be pro/con, Republican/Democrat, but many opinions based on personal thought and perspective,” Gruza said. “The real thing we must do is talk to each other and find commonality points.”
On the first matter of the ban on assault weapons the two held different views. Gruza, who was in favor of the ban, said that citizens are able to protect themselves without these weapons, which are made to be more efficient in killing people.
He asked the audience to imagine a scenario where a housewife in an urban neighborhood possesses a gun with 15 rounds of bullets, which she fires at a burglar who breaks into her house. Gruza said that this could result in not only the burglar’s death, potentially leaving the housewife in legal trouble, but also in a misfire that could fly through windows and walls and harm innocent people.
“Putting these weapons in the hands of home protection is a danger,” he said. “Putting them in the hands of someone else who wants to do harm to others is even more terrifying.”
Speidel, on the opposing side, said that guns purchased illegally through the black market are a bigger threat than assault weapons obtained legally.
“We have to break down on faulty dealers,” he said. “The guns purchased illegally are the ones too often used in school shootings, or any murders for that matter.”
One student who attended the debate, Nick Fitzmaurice, said that he maintained his “pretty neutral” stance before and after the debate, but was more in favor of the ban on assault weapons after hearing both sides.
“I’m somewhat for the strengthening of gun control of semi-automatic weapons just because of the idea that the proposition brought up that you don’t need a semi-automatic weapon to protect yourself,” said Fitzmaurice, a junior majoring in English.
On the matter of background checks, both opponents agreed that they are important and need to be much more actively enforced.
Gruza said he didn’t fully support the president’s plan for universal background checks, but still acknowledged their significance in preventing crime.
“The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is responsible,” he said. “They’re crippled by a series of restrictions that prevent them from being able to enforce these background checks and force shops to follow all the rules.”
Despite arguing against more stringent government regulation on firearms, Speidel said that he opposed the purchasing of guns over the Internet.
“How can you enforce policy over the Internet?” he asked.
He cited a 2011 statistic saying that 54 percent of sellers on Arms List, one of the largest online gun sites, were openly willing to sell firearms to customers who couldn’t pass a background check.
The two disagreed on the controversial hot topic of mental illness and gun regulation.
While Gruza said that therapists and psychologists should decide who is fit to own a gun on a case-by-case basis, Speidel asserted that there is not enough evidence to definitively claim that those with mental illnesses are more dangerous than others.
“Often in the case of school shootings they claim people were healthy individuals and ask how could they commit this crime,” Speidel said.
After the moderator was done questioning them, the debaters presented closing arguments, and then opened the floor up to questions from the audience.
Joe Leeson-Schatz, head of the Binghamton Speech and Debate team and professor of the argumentative theory course, said that he thought the debate went well and the debaters did a good job of keeping the audience’s attention.
“Gun control gets popularized in the media and there’s a lot more to it,” Leeson-Schatz said. “These aren’t black and white issues.”
This debate was the third of four public debates hosted by Leeson-Schatz’s class.
Students’ grades depend on how many attendees show up to watch them debate. Mattis made sure that all spectators signed themselves in.
Victoria Aloupis, a junior majoring in English who helped organize the debate, said they created a Facebook event, made a submission to B-Line, handed out flyers and even paid for Nirchi’s and other snacks out of pocket to lure students in.
Many audience members said they came to support their friends in the class, as well as learn about a relevant issue. There were nearly 30 audience members.
“I’m really here to support my friend but I am happy that this is the topic, because I don’t know much about the issue so I’m looking to learn a little bit more about both sides,” said Jamie Langhaus, junior majoring in psychology, prior to the debate.
“I liked it,” said Derek Besenius, a junior majoring in engineering. “Guns are fucking awesome.”