University of Utah debate asks if gun rights only apply in one’s home

What the Second Amendment means and what it guarantees has spurred impassioned conversations (and outrage) for those both for and against gun control, but on Thursday night the University of Utah is hosting a debate it hopes will foster a more nuanced and thoughtful conversation on the topic.

The 36th Annual Jefferson B. Fordham Debate is asking whether the Second Amendment only protects gun rights within someone’s home — or not.

More than 400 people have registered for the debate and more than 100 have discussed the question on social media. Some scoffed at the idea that guns would ever just be regulated inside a person’s home, wondering what part of “shall not be infringed” in the Second Amendment could be interpreted otherwise.

Yet, the right to bear arms in the home is the only facet of the Second Amendment that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on, said RonNell Andersen Jones, S.J. Quinney College of Law professor and moderator of the debate.

“We don’t have answers to the question of the constitutionality of all the other kinds of regulation that the federal government, or city, or state or municipality might want to engage in in terms of gun control,” Andersen Jones said. “The Supreme Court just hasn’t told us.”

Adding to the the already muddied discourse is that gun rights are a “uniquely galvanizing” topic, Andersen Jones said, in which people have strong opinions but don’t understand the scope of the issues or its intricacies.

“It’s one of a small list of constitutional issues that people take really personally. It’s sort of on the same list with abortion and gay marriage, where people internalize it as a major battlefront in the culture wars, and they think of it as central to their identity in one direction or the other," she said.

Law professors Darrell A. H. Miller, of Duke University, and George Mocsary, of the University of Wyoming, will debate both sides of the question to arrive at what they believe is the right answer — and what they believe is the right tool to end up there.

Typically, this is argued from the perspective of originalism (an interpretation of the Constitution the framer’s would have had) versus non-originalism, which views the document as evolving with the times.

Andersen Jones said Moscary has concluded that the Second Amendment protections are more broad than just inside a person’s home, while Miller sees the amendment as more restrictive.

The debate begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs until 7:30 p.m. at the S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom. Registration is required by emailing events@law.utah.edu or by signing up online. The debate will also be broadcast live on the law school’s Youtube page.

The Fordham Debate is named for Professor Jefferson B. Fordham, a legal scholar, who started working at the U. in 1972. The annual debate takes on a controversial topic of national interest.