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May 2, 2014

Students take shots at gun laws

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — After a debate attended by more than 120 college students Wednesday night, half of the attendees said they don’t believe restrictive gun laws are necessary in today’s society.

The question was asked at the first on-campus professor debate put on by the State University College at Oneonta Speech and Debate Team. The debate, titled “The Bearing of Arms: A Challenge and a Defense,” was held at 6:45 p.m. in one of the college’s lecture halls.

Three SUNY Oneonta professors and one adviser participated in the debate. Fida Mohammad, a sociology and criminal justice professor from Pakistan, and William Weinell, a local professor of Interdisciplinary Computing Skills, argued that restrictive gun laws are not necessary.

Achim Koeddermann, a philosophy professor, gave his pro-gun-control argument from Germany via Skype. Anne Burgin, coach of the Speech and Debate team, was present to give another argument supporting restrictive gun laws.

The audience was polled twice, once before the debate and once afterward, to determine whether any attitudes were changed during the debate. Students in the audience were asked: Are restrictive gun laws necessary in today’s society? At the beginning of the debate, more than 49 percent said yes, 35 percent said no and 25 percent were undecided.

During the first round of the debate, Mohammad showed multiple pictures of himself brandishing guns of all types and sizes in his native Pakistan, where there are no restrictive gun laws, he said. He argued that criminals don’t care about gun laws and therefore will not follow them, leaving innocent law-abiding individuals with no way to defend themselves against “the bad guys.”

Lawful gun ownership has no connection with random killing, Mohammad said. The weapon of choice used in rapes, one of the most under-reported crimes, is a knife, he said.

“Should we then outlaw knives? No,” Mohammad said. “Guns are good for us. They give us a sense of safety. Fear of guns is amplified by 24/7 media coverage of horrific but out-of-the-ordinary events.”

Mohammad then recounted an incident during which he was approached in Pakistan by a group of men. He felt threatened, so he took out a gun and loaded it and the men turned and walked away, he said.

From Germany, Koedderman said handguns are the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction that exist. High gun ownership means more danger, he said. Yes, the Bill of Rights say that individuals have the right to keep and bear arms, Koedderman said, but when those rules are taken advantage of, they have to change. Registration of all arms and mandatory gun training should be mandatory, he said. 

Weinell, an avid hunter, began his argument by saying that he has 10 children and that he wants them to be safe. Outlawing guns, he said, keeps them out of the hands of the people who need them to protect themselves.

“It makes the rest of us sitting targets,” Weinell said.

Weinell argued that many of the most recent shootings have taken place in areas where guns are prohibited. Of the ten or more movie theaters around Aurora, Colo., the one where a violent mass shooting happened last year was the only one that had a sign outside it that read, “Guns are Prohibited,” Weinell said. When people are allowed to arm themselves, over time, violent crime decreases, he said.

Burgin offered up the point that, when the Bill of Rights was written, the gun of choice was the flintlock rifle. There were no scopes, sites or lasers either, she said. In the American West, guns were the law and people killed each other for entertainment. In a perfect world, we would not need gun laws, she said. But unless we somehow find a way to eliminate hatred, we need them. 

“We have so many guns in this country,” Burgin said. “If guns stop crime, we should be the safest country in the world. But we’re not.”

Near the end of the debate, the professors answered several questions from the audience. By the end vote, the number of students who felt there should be restrictive gun laws decreased to 33 percent, with 50 percent opposing gun laws and 36 percent saying they were undecided. Erik Heidenreich, president of the Speech and Debate Team, said he thought the debate went well and that students were engaged. 

“I think it really made them think,” Heidenreich said.