“In the U.S., should private gun ownership be regulated by the federal government?” was the question posed at the first Student Senate debate.
Two committees teamed up to host the debate Oct. 29 in the J.W. Jones Student Union Ballroom.
Inclusion committee chair sophomore Kevin Nguyen organized the event and moderated alongside governmental affairs chair sophomore Ben Kutz. The selected debaters were senior Taylor Moore, who primarily identifies as a Libertarian, and College Democrats President Spencer Owens.
“The purpose of today’s debate is to educate and have civil discourse about a widely controversial topic,” Nguyen said.
Of the 16 questions asked by moderators and the audience of around 65 students, Moore and Owens agreed more than they disagreed.
Students asked questions through Sli.do, an interactive polling web app.
They completely disagreed on six questions, partially agreed with some caveats on two questions and fully, or almost entirely, agreed on eight questions.
The areas where Moore and Owens agreed primarily related to ideas that have become known as “common-sense gun reform.”
Although legislators from the municipal to national level disagree on the specific laws within this category, Moore and Owens identified universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods as necessary legislation that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights.
Moore also proposed mental health screenings, and Owens supported red flag laws, which fall into a similar category, but are not exactly the same.
Moore said mental health professionals should look for signs of antisocial personality disorder — better known as sociopathy — or severe depression to prevent those with suicidal or homicidal feelings from purchasing firearms.
Red flag laws could prevent those deemed unfit by a mental health professional from purchasing firearms, but mostly they apply to those with a history of violent crime, especially domestic violence.
The debate began with nit-picking discussion of proposed or passed legislation including concealed carry reciprocity laws, the Dickey Amendment, the Tiahrt Amendment and the “gun-show loophole.”
However, the debaters became more animated and the audience more engaged when the discussion turned to active shooters and guns in schools.
While Moore and Owens agreed more research needed to be conducted on the effectiveness of active shooter drills, they said the research that has been conducted deems the drills effective for teachers and college-age students but potentially traumatizing for younger students.
“Being the child of an educator, I’ve helped participate in several active shooter drills,” Owens said. “For students our age, I think it’s a great thing on college campuses because we’ve seen so many issues and so many violent actions take place on college campuses.”
Owens said an active shooter drill involving students would work well at Northwest given its smaller size relative to other state universities.
The issue of guns in classrooms created the most conflict between Moore and Owens. Owens was strongly opposed. He said he comes from a long line of public educators, and the vast majority of his family members, regardless of political affiliation, would oppose carrying a firearm in their classroom.
“Carrying a firearm in the public school system in a room full of second graders is nothing more than a complete and utter danger to those students,” Owens said. “You are purposefully and willingly putting students within steps of a weapon that could take a human life.”
Owens said the safer way to protect schools is not with more guns but by preventing guns from coming inside the school in the first place by increasing security measures at entrances and exits of schools.
Moore disagreed, saying while teachers should not be directly armed, having guns in safes in classrooms could provide the means to stop an active shooter should they come in the classroom.
Moore said even more effective than providing teachers with firearms is training resource officers to handle active shooter situations and providing schools with more resource officers.
“The only way to stop someone with a gun is with another gun,” Moore said. “Because that person is not going to stop shooting until someone else intervenes.”
A question submitted more than once to the Sli.do that was remarkably absent from discussion addressed College Republicans raffling off an 80% lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle.
“I feel like they should have talked about that because it’s really interesting,” freshman Caitlyn Colter said.
Nguyen said he and Kutz ignored the question because they wanted to keep the debate on the specific topic chosen.
“The debate was about federal regulation on private ownership of firearms, not on campus organizations raffling off firearms,” Nguyen said. “It was not relevant to the specific debate and also, I would not want to put the speakers in an uncomfortable position of having to publicly state their views on the raffle.”
In spite of that question going unanswered, Colter said she appreciated Moore and Owens discussing school safety.
Both Colter and freshman Riley Johnson said they were surprised and relieved by the debaters and the audience remaining civil and calm throughout.
“I think this is a really cool space to talk about these types of issues on campus because the speakers are really well spoken,” Johnson said. “They did a great job explaining what they believe without making it feel like a hostile environment, which I think is a problem when we talk about controversial issues like this.”
Nguyen said the idea for student debates came from Student Senate hosting speakers to discuss political topics in previous years, but he said he wanted to hear more student input.
The discussion topic was voted on by students, and Nguyen said the debate participants were selected through an application and interview process to ensure expertise and civility.
Nguyen said the education aspect of the debate was important to him because of the civic responsibility to communicate with elected representatives in a meaningful way what legislation constituents want them to pass.
“I was super nervous during the debate, but I’m so glad that there were so many people that showed up,” Nguyen said. “I’m super grateful for it, and I’m super excited, and I know that those of us in Student Senate, who worked so hard on this, are excited for next month’s debate.”
Next month’s debate topic will be announced on the Student Senate Twitter Nov. 5.