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Fostering discussion and debate

Connor Roth | Friday, February 8, 2013

As we are students at one of the most prominent universities in the world, I believe it is our duty to engage ourselves in the realm of public policy. For years, we’ve heard our parents and grandparents say, “You kids are going to be the leaders of the future,” and if that is true, should we not start talking about controversial issues now? One of my professors jokingly mentions “Notre Dame students are too nice,” and I believe part of that is true because no one wants to say anything controversial in fear of backlash. But here is the sad truth: If we are scared to voice our opinions at a university – the literal institute for academic discovery and debate – where else is there for us to discuss such divisive issues? I decided to apply to write for The Observer because I wanted to discuss some of my libertarian-leaning ideas, hoping to probe some response from the student body. It feels like there is a grey cloud shadowing the younger generation all across America with apathy, and if we, the “young leaders,” want to make the future better than today, it is crucial to start discussing things sooner rather than later.
For these reasons, I would like to thank the readers of my last column on gun control who contacted me in agreement with my position – it’s great to hear people care enough to show their support – but I would more importantly like to applaud those who contacted me in disagreement, particularly Ms. Conron, who ran an article, “If gun control is futile, what isn’t?” on Feb. 6. I know I wouldn’t be providing provocative or stimulating articles if I didn’t rustle any jimmies in the process. Criticism forces you to discuss in further detail where you stand on particular issues and also develops your argument, just as practicing free throws will make you a better basketball player. But, it is this area of dissent I would like to discuss in further detail.
I’d much rather discuss something like gun control with someone who completely disagrees with me on the topic than with someone who is indifferent to the issue. Debate is the way we as Americans can change culture and you can’t debate someone who is ignorant to the world surrounding them. One of my favorite quotes reads, “An idea whose time has come cannot be stopped,” and to be quite honest, I was expecting completely different oppositions to aspects of my last article. With my anti-gun-centralization position, I was expecting some people to send me emails asking questions, “Are you suggesting American citizens should be able to buy sniper rifles or AK-47s?” or “Do you believe there should be armed guards in public schools?” Those are relevant issues and are obviously not held uniformly in the pro-gun arena, but instead of those topics arising, the primary criticism I received was for apparently being anti-speed limit, anti-driver’s license and anti-safety.
In order to create a community that will foster debate, discussion and a free-flow of ideas, we need to do our best to hold back emotion and approach things analytically. In my last article, I was attempting to weave a political philosophy of anti-force and anti-coercion, stating government guns will be necessary to collect guns of private citizens; I then continued to offer statistics that suggest cities or countries with more “anti-gun” laws actually have more crime and violence. I was then incredulously surprised to see a response stating I must be against “basic regard for other people’s safety,” when in actuality, I was offering a platform that would help make our country better off (by being more safe). Ms. Conron argued in her article, “if expanding gun control is futile … basically ever other government activity imaginable [will be too],” which is another argument in itself, but has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. We are discussing how guns affect the safety of the public, not whether or not I disagree with being taxed for driving 67 in a 60 mile-per-hour zone.
So to answer the question, “Does that mean our society should abandon all legal attempts to ensure public safety?” the obvious, simple answer is “No.” If we want to further this discussion of what is the most efficient at stopping violence in America, it won’t help to attack a misrepresentation of one side’s argument (see “straw man”). In order to delve into debate and actually mitigate the country’s problems, we need to be concise and stick to the issues at hand. So please, let’s have a discussion. Let’s talk about divisive policies that will stir up emotion, but let’s also attempt to hold back our passions and keep the issues in clear sight. Without doing so, the one percent will just be known as “those who don’t care about the poor” and the pro-choice proponents will just be labeled as “baby killers.” As soon as one side just starts throwing around demeaning accusations and fails to provide any concrete, relevant point or counterargument, any hope of positive change will fade into oblivion and the “debate” will simply turn into name-calling.
I would also like to clarify for those students confused by Ms. Conron’s statement: “I must have missed the day in class where we learned about our right to defend ourselves … not given by Congress, but by God.” Don’t worry, none of you were daydreaming in Foundations of Theology the day natural law was mentioned. That idea is explained in the Declaration of Independence – check the first sentence.

Connor Roth is a sophomore economics major and constitutional studies minor. He can be reached at croth1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.