On Tuesday night, the Georgetown University College Republicans and Democrats convened a good-faith, round-table discussion on the important topic of gun control. This discussion intended to create a dialogue and, hopefully, find common ground between the two opposing viewpoints. However, despite multiple attempts to focus the discussion it became apparent that gun-control was such a multi-faceted debate that coming up with clear policy solutions would be difficult.
The timeliness of the discussion could not have been better in light of the recent attacks in Las Vegas, where lone-wolf shooter Stephen Paddock killed nearly sixty people and injured hundreds of others at the Harvest Country Music Festival. From his perch in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Paddack used semi-automatic weapons with a device called a bump stock, a legal device that allows the gun to fire faster.
The round-table meeting covered a lot of ground in little time. Some thought helping the mentally ill or even banning guns altogether was the solution. Others made arguments based on the Constitution for keeping them. A little into the hour, however, the conversation soon drifted into broad generalizations. The subtleties of gun control seemed to strangle any constructive dialogue. For example, there is a difference in the term “assault weapon” and “assault rifle.” These terms are used by some to describe legal pistols, shotguns, and other semi-automatic weapons, that gun control advocates hope to regulate. The term assault rifle in reality refers to automatic weapons which are already tightly regulated and nearly impossible for the average citizen to obtain. These slight intricacies created a lot of confusion.
In fact, it seemed that the debate had become a game of five-dimensional chess, where each person argued on different planes and never actually seemed to address each other. Both sides threw out statistics to support their side, but there was no empirical proof that those statistics were even accurate. In fact, some claims and statistics cited were over 23 years old and were rated as 3 “Pinocchios,” a measure of truthfulness, by the Washington Post.
At the end of the discussion, which lasted slightly over an hour, one board member of the College Republicans said that he “was extremely disappointed that everyone could not find a consensus on the issue.” This sentiment was echoed by the Georgetown University College Democrats, who also tried to concentrate on certain issues to find consensus among both groups.
There was one area where the group was able to find consensus, though. The group unanimously voted to outlaw the use of bump stocks. Nevertheless, even the logistics of how to ban bump stocks was hotly debated. Some Republicans in the room suggested banning them through the Department of Firearms, Tobacco, and Alcohol, as compared to banning them through Congress, arguing that it is difficult for Congress to pass bans. The problem is that an action like this one would not be permanent and could be overturned during the term of another presidency.
Even though it may not have been as constructive as it could have been, the Georgetown University College Republicans and Democrats indicated their optimism about the possibility of dialogue and cooperation in the future.