The debate, moderated by Senior Cobb Superior Court Judge Conley Ingram, was held for the Rotary Club of Marietta at the Marietta Conference Center.
Rotarian James Eubanks, a gun owner, called it a draw afterward.
“I think it was an excellent discourse and exposed the complicated nature of gun control and gun rights, and obviously this is something that the entire community should be very interested in discussing further,” Eubanks said.
Former Marietta City Councilwoman Holly Walquist said she enjoyed the debate.
“I learned quite a few interesting things like the fact that it’s only 10 percent of the folks that don’t have background checks as opposed to 40 percent that was stated, so I found that really interesting,” Walquist said. “I like both of them. I think that the issues have got to be addressed with both sides at the table.”
Ingram kicked off the debate by explaining how the nation has long struggled to understand the meaning of the Second Amendment.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, said “let’s quit all this big talk about ‘you have to have a militia,’” Ingram said. “It does give each individual a constitutional right to bear arms, but it’s not an absolute right. It’s a qualified right. But like so many judges do sometimes, they left some wiggle room in the written decisions. So we’ve got arguments going on across the country in courts today of how much wiggle room there is in state and federal government regulation, and that’s part of the problem I guess we have.”
So while the Constitution prohibits outlawing all guns, the high court has decided they can be regulated, Ingram said.
In his remarks, Foley denounced the National Rifle Association for using fear to exploit the public, for conducting a misinformation campaign and attacking the government’s duty to protect the lives of citizens. The NRA doesn’t just represent 4 million members, it is also the lobbyist and voice of its corporate sponsors in the gun industry, Foley said.
Foley called the Connecticut school murders of 20 children and 6 adults one more senseless mass murder in a long series of senseless mass murders perpetrated by sick individuals armed with powerful killing machines they should never have had.
Since 1982, Foley said, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the country, 25 since 2006, and seven of them in 2012. Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally and included dozens of assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns, he said.
Foley advocated for gun safety legislation like New York City has passed. In 2012, Foley said with common sense gun safety measures and stringent enforcement in effect, New York City had a record low of 414 homicides, of which 237 were committed with guns.
Foley said no one is calling for banning all guns.
“What the majority of Americans do want are sensible gun safety measures like those proposed by The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence,” he said.
Proposed measures include requiring universal background checks, improving the background checks by ensuring that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is complete and accurate, banning new semi-automatic assault weapons and limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines to ten rounds, he said.
Barr said the issue at hand is not about the NRA, on whose board he serves. The issue is about the Constitution, which was authored to maximize liberty and minimize government control.
“The Second Amendment is there for defensive purposes. Its purpose as the Supreme Court has indicated … is for personal defense, to defend oneself which is a basic human right that our founders understood,” Barr said.
Barr said the Supreme Court has held – as with other amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing the rights of the citizenry – that there can be reasonable limitations on the exercise of those rights.
The founders understood that there was a difference between the militia and the Army, Barr continued.
“The militia and how it’s come to be understood historically and contemporaneously, is the citizenry, and the arms to be kept and born by the militia – that is by the citizenry – are those of traditional and common sense and realistic use by an individual,” he said.
Such arms are not military hardware, Barr said.
“We’re not talking about bazookas and .50 caliber machine guns,” he said. “What the court in those cases has decided, and it is the law of the land today, and that is that semiautomatic handguns, for example, and rifles, even if they look ‘mean’ and send Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein into fits of conniption because they look so mean, they are of the sort that are in common usage, standard usage and historically appropriate for the citizenry – which is the militia – to utilize. So to what extent there will be further limitation that remains to be seen.”
Barr countered Foley’s claim by saying the NRA’s focus is safety, with the bulk of its money going into communities to work with law enforcement, teachers and students.
Barr said the majority of firearm purchases go through a background check through the National Instant Check System.
“Probably less than 10 percent of firearms transfers in the country do not go through a background check,” he said.
The transfer of guns between individuals that isn’t covered is legitimate topic for Congress and the states to consider, although Barr would not support the so-called universal background check.
He called that “a misnomer because the bad guys are never going to go through a background check anyway.”
When it comes to regulating what kinds of firearms citizens are allowed to have, Barr said, “Primarily here we get into the sort of Feinstein, ‘ooh, it’s scary looking.’”
Many in the gun control camp use the term “assault weapon” without understanding that does not include fully automatic weapons, Barr said.
“A true assault weapon is a fully automatic weapon, but those have been largely unavailable to the public since 1934,” he said. “What we’re talking about here are firearms that have certain cosmetic characteristics that some people find scary.’
Prior to California Sen. Feinstein’s 1994 gun ban legislation going into effect, a ban that lasted 10 years, and which saw no effect on crime and homicide in the country, Barr said, Feinstein spent time with her staff leafing through gun catalogues and picking out a number of guns to prohibit “that simply looked mean.”
While that was bad enough, Barr said, her latest legislation is far more restrictive.
The fact is that in the heat of the moment even the best trained police officers will miss when firing their guns, Barr said.
“In the heat of the moment, whether it’s protecting you and your family in a darkened room or whether you’re a police officer on a well lit street you may not with seven rounds do the job, particularly if you have a crazed gunman on cocaine,” Barr said. “They can keep coming and coming and coming after several rounds hit them. For the government and senators to say, ‘well, we’re going to limit you to seven rounds because that’s all we think you need’ is absolutely outrageous, and it’s not something that any citizen who understands the right to self defense and what the Second Amendment is about should stand for.”