Berkeley Forum panelists discuss future of firearms in US

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The Berkeley Forum hosted a panel of gun policy experts Friday night to discuss the future of firearms and public safety in America.

The panel, titled “Guns, Crime and Freedom,” brought a trio of speakers to the UC Berkeley campus — author and economist John Lott, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Stanford professor Jack Rakove and Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

While the panelists agreed on the need to address gun violence while protecting Second Amendment rights, they differed on the extent to which the government should intervene.

The evening’s discussion — moderated by a Stanford University junior Jason Willick, a former assistant opinion page editor at The Daily Californian — delved into federal regulation, jurisprudence on the Second Amendment and statistical data on gun violence.

Thomas said that while there is almost no federal regulation of firearms, California, New York and Connecticut have recently passed a wave of gun laws.

“(The laws are) a really interesting development that provides us with good knowledge that we can look at when trying to assess what’s working in terms of regulation,” Thomas said.

Conversely, Lott said extensive regulation, in particular fees paired with background checks, will make gun ownership cost-prohibitive for those below the poverty line.

For Rakove, legal challenges to the Second Amendment’s interpretation — specifically in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller — have shaped its prominence in American jurisprudence.

“The objective was to entrench the Second Amendment as being a core value that can be used to limit jurisdiction of states and localities,” he said. “It is a terribly flawed meaning, but that’s what the court decided, and that’s what we’re stuck with.”

Lott also discussed, as he did in his book “More Guns, Less Crime,” underlying issues with gun violence data. Instead of relying on data gathered only from states that adopted gun regulation, Lott said, policymakers should rely on data gathered over time from two groups — those that adopted regulation and those that did not — when comparing the impact of gun ownership on crime rates.

“There’s no perfect data set offered to control the variables,” Thomas said, speaking generally about gun violence data. “It’s always a correlation argument.”

The Berkeley Forum is a nonpartisan undergraduate student group founded by Pierre Bourbonnais, a former Daily Cal staff member.

The next Berkeley Forum event is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 8 and is  titled “Influence on Money and Politics,” with speaker Lawrence Lessig.

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected].