Gettysburg College Hosts Braver Angels Debate Over the Second Amendment
By Alyssa Guevara, Contributing Writer
On Thursday, the Eisenhower Institute, the Public Policy Student Council, and the national non-profit organization Braver Angels hosted a debate for students about the Second Amendment.
Braver Angels is an organization dedicated to the movement of “bridging the partisan divide” that has been apparent in politics. To bring more political unity to campus, Braver Angels chose Gettysburg as the host of its 2023 Braver Angels National Convention.
A film crew from Sweden named Story Fire filmed the entire event for a documentary on democracy.
“They’re traveling around the country, exploring what’s happening to democracy today,” Braver Angels member Doug Sprei explained. “And this event is part of that fabric. Producer Jan Scherman shared that the crew has traveled across the world as well, visiting their home nation of Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Africa among others.”
The debate kicked off with Public Policy Student Council Co-President Andrew Lemon ’24 welcoming the audience and Braver Angels to the debate. He introduced some of the organization’s members.
Sprei is the founder and co-director of the College Debates and Discourse Alliance. Sprei also works with ACTA and Bridge USA. Member Luke Nathan Philips is a Publius Fellow for Public Discourse. Both Sprei and Philips explained that the debate was intended to be an open discussion where all voices could be heard.
Sprei gave his opening remarks, and Phillips presented the rules of the debate. Phillips explained that any member of the audience who wanted to come to the podium and argue either in the affirmative or negative was welcome to do so. To avoid personal attacks, all questions from the audience had to be addressed to Philips instead of the speaker.
The debate proceeded with students volunteering to answer the question of the night: “Should the Second Amendment be abolished?”
The first student speaker argued in the affirmative and shared her experience growing up in a town where both gun violence and a heroin epidemic were apparent. She also explained how she grew up knowing people who used guns.
“I know very well the pain and pleasure of having guns in your life,” she said.
She argued to abolish the Second Amendment in its current form and to rewrite it to better fit American society today.
One audience member questioned how “a well-regulated militia” should be interpreted in the speaker’s view. The speaker rebutted that the vernacular of the founding fathers is questionable within a modern lens.
Another audience member asked if the speaker believed that pistols or handguns should still be allowed for self-defense. The speaker responded by explaining that although she does believe those two types of weapons should be permissible, she does not believe that self-defense requires a semi-automatic weapon.
Another speaker then stood and argued in the negative, citing his belief that property is akin to freedom and that guns are a necessary tool to be used to protect property and ergo freedom. The speaker went on to argue that in the instance of tyranny, guns should not only be permissible but expected in defense and the pursuit of freedom. He also quoted John Locke, stating that the obtainment of property is what gives way to the obtainment of freedom. He also reiterated his belief that the founding fathers intended the Second Amendment to be used in instances of rebellion against tyranny.
He argued that the Second Amendment has a deeper, philosophical history to it and that the written words in the amendment have value. He stated that revoking the amendment or passing strict laws would not solve the issue of heightened gun violence and mass shootings. People from the audience questioned the speaker’s stance on how to solve gun violence in America. The speaker outlined his plan by explaining he believes better training for police officers that serve towns and schools would be a necessary remedy.
Another speaker asked the audience to ponder the origins of the Second Amendment. He claimed that the Second Amendment exists to protect a free state but then questioned if the United States was even a free state, to begin with. He continued with the argument that the U.S. cannot be considered a free state because the people who inhabit it work under capitalism and corporations.
This speaker also argued that abolishing the Second Amendment does not go far enough, citing that any attempt to disarm workers must be abolished by force. He quoted Karl Marx and claimed that the Second Amendment was designed at a time when people were seen as property. He closed his speech by calling for a revolution.
In total, about a dozen attendees stepped up throughout the debate to share their views relating to the second amendment.
Phillips closed the night by asking speakers and members of the audience three consequential questions: What did you learn? What did you enjoy? What would you tell other students about the Braver Angels debate?
Despite the various degrees of political difference, many attendees shared the sentiment that they were glad they came and were proud of the constructive discourse that occurred throughout the night. Attendees shared that they enjoyed hearing from people who were not professional political pundits and were from all across the political spectrum. Sprei thanked everyone for participating in Braver Angels’ first debate event at Gettysburg.
Post-debate, some of the attendees and speakers stuck around to continue the conversation.
Monica Solis ’25 shared why she decided to attend the debate and why she wanted to voice her thoughts.
“I’m not a formal member of any political groups [on campus], and I’ve always watched the debates and been like ‘Oh, I have something I want to share,’” Solis explained. “But I’ve never done it because I get nervous because I’m not a trained orator. . . but I feel like this space felt more intimate and more like a safe space in which I could share my opinions and acknowledge that I’m not the most informed, but what I have to say is still important to the conversation.”
Solis also shared that she felt that the college needed a debate like this to dispel partisanship on campus, and she wished that more people would have come to the Braver Angels debate.
Attendee Ziv Carmi ’23 shared that he came to the debate because he loves “speaking [his] mind and to hear what other people had to say.” He said that he believed the debate was highly effective and also wished that more people came.
Phillips shared his thoughts on why people tend to be afraid to speak up, yet he reiterated his belief in the importance of debating.
“We can engage with each other in ways that help us realize the fact that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans,” said Phillips. “But most importantly of all, I think that deliberation and discussion, and sometimes very raucous debate over things make us what we are. The essence of the American identity is public discourse and everybody’s equal right to public discourse.”
Phillips described how the debate represented a variety of voices on campus. “A chorus of the union,” he said.
Following the 2016 presidential election, co-founders David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty, and David Lapp sought to cultivate a better understanding of opposing political viewpoints. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln, Braver Angels hopes to empower Americans to find the courage to create a more perfect union, and they believe that this could be done through meaningful debate and conversation. Sprei shared that Gettysburg College was hosting the 117th debate in partnership with Braver Angels, and the organization has had over 5,000 students participate across various college campuses.
Phillips shared that the Braver Angels’ “founder and guiding spirit” David Blankenhor selected Gettysburg College to host their 2023 national convention because of the college’s unique ties to history. Sprei gave his thoughts on the debate at Gettysburg.
“Every college debate that we have has its character, and I think that the one we just had. . . was incredible,” said Sprei. “The second amendment is a very polarizing issue, but look at how civil the students were. Look at how rich the base of opinions was. . . and how everyone respected each other. That’s what we’re looking for because that’s not happening in politics. . . [or] in congress right now. We feel like if this could happen more in colleges and higher education, the country has a chance.”
This article was edited at 10:10 a.m. on February 14, 2023. An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the documentary producer and misspelled ACTA. (- L. Franchetti)