Engaging in thoughtful debate may require everyone to stop talking – at least temporarily

Shut Up!

Episode One: Facts or Feelings?

Thinking about the heightened awareness of “fake news” over the last year or two, and increasingly common debate taking place via social media, how can we create effective arguments and constructive dialogue around hot-button topics like politics and social causes?

Thoughtful debate can be challenging to facilitate, but is arguably more important than ever before. I spoke with my parents – a lawyer and a community organizer – and a coworker who is also a journalism student about how to facilitate “good” debate and use critical thinking, rather than allowing conversation to disintegrate into purely emotion-driven argument with little to no basis on fact. While some people gravitate toward manipulating emotion or forming relationship-driven arguments, others make use only of facts. I explore the benefits of both, and how we can find middle ground. This and more on Shut Up!

Clinton vs. Trump: Gun Control and the Second Amendment

Written by Samantha Lindsay

The following report is the third in a five-part series presenting a comparative analysis of select legislative proposals presented by the two major candidates in the 2016 presidential election; Democrat (D) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican (R), Donald J. Trump. The second article in this series offers a brief introduction to the candidates’ platforms on the issue of the American economy. In this report, I will address the candidates’ positions on the issue of gun control, and the major objections to their proposals. This series is not an endorsement of either candidate.

According to Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, there were 355 mass shootings in the United States during the year 2015. For reference, a mass shooting is described as “four or more people, including the gunman, were killed or injured by gunfire.” Gun Violence Archive (A national database of police and news reports) has documented approximately 311 mass shootings in the United States as of Oct. 25 of this year.

Information recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates that violent crime, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault is on the rise; particularly in our major cities. A breakdown of the FBI’s violent crime statistics reveals that, “In 2015, an estimated 1,197,704 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 3.9 percent from the 2014 estimate…  firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies, and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults.”

Extensive media coverage of recent riots and violent crimes, as well as information sharing campaigns on social media, has made these statistics broadly available to the general public creating a heightened level of public awareness. The threat to domestic security that these statistics represent has led to increased public anxiety, which is manifest in a recent Gallup Poll, which concluded that “Americans’ level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that the manufacturing and sale of firearms have nearly doubled over the past five years as public concern has prompted a sharp spike in the gun market due to more Americans purchasing guns for self-defense. According to Gun Violence Archives, there have been 1,461 cases of self-defense involving the use of a gun this year.

Nevertheless, support for regulatory reform has also risen and according to a survey conducted by PewResearchCenter, “… large majorities of both Democrats (90%) and Republicans (75%) have favored making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.” Similarly, a majority of voters from both parties support barring gun sales to people with mental illness and people on “no-fly” or terror watch lists.

In response to public concerns about violent crime, both Clinton and Trump have presented similar proposals that reflect general bipartisan support among the electorate. Both candidates recommend a federal background check intended to close the gun show and internet sales loopholes, thereby making it more difficult for people with criminal intent to purchase weapons and ammunition. While Clinton specifically mentions barring domestic abusers from purchasing guns and Trump focuses on violent gang members and drug dealers, the platforms of both candidates include stronger enforcement of existing law prohibiting people who suffer severe mental illness and those convicted of a violent crime from purchasing firearms. Nevertheless, there are clear distinctions in their platforms that raise strong objections from their individual opponents.

 

(D) Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton’s  platform includes a proposal to repeal the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).” According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the PLCAA is “… a federal statute which provides broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers in federal and state court.” A repeal of this law would make it easier for victims of violent crime to file negligence charges against the manufacturers of firearms under tort law and receive compensation for their injury or loss.

Objections

When cases are brought to court against manufacturers of any product under tort law, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that the maker of the product had a legal obligation, that they failed to meet that legal obligation and the plaintiff suffered injury or loss as a direct result.

For example, auto companies have legal obligations to meet safety standards, which include quality brakes. If a company sells a car with defective brakes, and the buyer is injured in an accident because their brakes were defective, the auto company can be held liable for the injury. However, if an auto company meets all legal obligations in the manufacturing and sale of a vehicle, but the buyer then uses the car in the commission of a crime, the auto company cannot be held liable.

PLCAA specifically defines the limitations of tort law regarding gun manufacturers. As with tort law covering other industries, it does not provide immunity if a manufacturer sells a defective weapon, or if they violate sales regulations. It is legal for gun manufacturers to make and sell certain types of firearms within specified limitations to qualifying individuals in the United States. Under PLCAA, as long as gun manufacturers meet all legal obligations, they cannot be held liable for the actions of the buyer.

The primary objection to Clinton’s proposal is that a repeal of PLCAA would potentially lead to a multitude of tort litigation that would ultimately make the manufacturing of firearms too expensive to maintain, thereby perhaps leading to a de facto ban on the sale of firearms in the United States. It is argued that this would be an indirect violation of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which (according to this Gallup Poll) 73% of the public believes guarantees American citizens the right to own guns.

 

(R) Donald J. Trump

Trump’s platform includes a proposal to enact a “national right to carry” law that would permit anyone with a concealed or open carry license to legally carry a firearm in all 50 states. The rationale for this proposal is that the vast majority of licensed gun owners are armed for the purpose of self-defense and the “right of self-defense” does not have natural borders. Therefore, it is argued, the right to carry for self-defense should not have legal borders within the United States.

Objections

Unless a federal “right to carry” permit required everyone seeking a permit to receive high-quality standardized training in all 50 states before being issued a license, the level of training required would vary from state to state, which might put the public at risk of an increase in accidental shootings.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence argues that “Allowing untrained, or under-trained, persons to carry loaded, hidden handguns in public puts people at risk of being killed or injured, intentionally and unintentionally.” In addition, the campaign argues that “It also makes it harder for law enforcement to identify the real perpetrators during a shooting… Almost every major law enforcement organization…thinks law enforcement should have discretion over the carrying of concealed handguns in public.”

The needs of law enforcement vary from town to town, city to city, and state to state. While “right to carry” permits may be acceptable, perhaps even preferable, in small cities and rural areas of our country, there may be an unacceptable risk involved in allowing such permits in densely populated cities; particularly in areas with an already existing high crime rate.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org

Clinton, Trump target character flaws in final presidential debate

The Howard Baker Center hosted a watch party for the final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Oct. 19.

The two candidates solidified their stances and primarily focused on targeting character flaws in each other. Trump appeared defensive as Clinton targeted his recently revealed lewd and offensive comments toward women.

Clinton questioned Trump’s fitness for the presidency and defended her record and experience.

“I think it’s really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is, and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together, where we don’t want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up, and we make our country even greater,” Clinton said.

Donald Trump stirred up controversy during the latter portion of the debate when he failed to verify whether or not he would accept the results of the election.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said in reference to a question about the possibility of him conceding. “I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time”

This comment came after recent statements from Trump at rallies claiming that the election is rigged against him.

Chris Wallace, the moderator of the debate, questioned Trump’s comments and discussed the tradition of peaceful transitions of power in United States politics.

“But, sir, there is a tradition in this country – in fact, one of the prides of this country – is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” Wallace asked.

Trump’s response only raised more ambiguity on whether or not he will concede if he loses.

“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. Ok?” Trump replied.

Clinton and Trump did not spare each other in directing sharp jabs toward one another. Clinton targeted Trump on his trade policies as a businessman with an inflammatory description of his treatment toward American workers.

“So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.” Clinton said.

Later in the debate Trump targeted Clinton with a personal insult. Trump interrupted Clinton and claimed she was, “Such a nasty woman.” in response to her comments on social security.

Chris Wallace brought the divisive debate to a close on a more optimistic note by asking the candidates to give their closing statements and make their case to be the next president of the United States.

Clinton made her final statement by stating “I will stand up for families against powerful interests, against corporations. I will do everything that I can to make sure that you have good jobs, with rising incomes, that your kids have good educations from preschool through college. I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president.”

Trump made his final statement by targeting Clinton, Obama, and their policies.

“We are going to make America strong again, and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now. We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.” Trump closed.

After the debate, UT students discussed their views and opinions on how the debate went, who they support and what their views are on the candidates.

Marie Greenwood Campbell, a freshman Political Science major who identifies as an independent, said that the debate changed her mind on the election.

“I was leaning more towards Trump because of Clinton’s stance on life. I have realized that I cannot stand someone like Trump representing my country.” she said.

One attendee at the debate expressed distaste in how the candidates performed in the debate. AJ Schroder, a freshman Economics major who also identifies as an independent, was critical of the substance of the debate.

“I disliked that they devoted fifteen minutes to Trump’s 2005 comments,” Schroder said. “It seemed petty and immature that they are discussing this in a debate instead of focusing more on Supreme Court justices, inner-city crime, gun control and immigration.”

This was the final presidential debate in what has been a contentious election year. Early voting in Tennessee began the same day as the debate and will end on Nov. 3.

Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Quotes from the debate were verified using a transcript from the Washington Post. The full, annotated transcript can be found here.

Edited by Ben Webb.

Featured image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org

Gun control event debates different experiences, viewpoints

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Experts Juan Pacheco and Robert Farago debate the issue of gun control.

When it comes to discussing gun control, you can expect a few loaded questions.

University of Tennessee students experienced a night of firearms education and debate on Wednesday as experts Juan Pacheco and Robert Farago discussed the issue of gun control in the Cox Auditorium of the Alumni Memorial Building. Pacheco, a former gang member and gun control advocate, exchanged ideas with Farago, a National Rifle Association member and firearms blogger, during the Issues Committee organized event.

“I’m not okay with our rights being taken away, but I’m also not ok with losing young people,” said Pacheco, drawing attention to the gun violence that frequently ravages underprivileged youth in America.

Admitting that he was “not a lawyer,” Pacheco cited statistics that related high levels of gun ownership to increased crime, murder and domestic abuse instances across the country in an effort to convey his point.

For Farago, the issue of gun violence was not one to pin on lawful gun owners. Despite a past gun-related suicide of a close friend, Farago chose to never “’blame his (friend’s) father for legally owning a firearm, nor did I blame the tool that my friend chose to end his own life.”

Robert argued that if Americans could “transform the debate (of gun control) away from the tool” and towards the underlying issues behind violence, the problem of gun violence could easily be resolved.

Meg Landon, a sophomore in neuroscience and secretary of the Issues Committee, sees the event as an opportunity for students to experience two very differing viewpoints in a respectful fashion.

“We see a lot of gun related violence, and I think people on both sides of the argument would agree that this violence is a problem,” Landon said. “They have different solutions in mind, so it is important to open a civil dialogue in order to come to the best solution.”

For more information on Issues Committee events, click here.

Edited by Jessica Carr

SGA debate leaves crowd enthused for voting time

Tuesday night’s Student Government Association debate was held at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy. The debate featured three  primary parties: We Are UT, Insert UT and Keny-Dugosh. The debate was aired live by The Volunteer Channel as candidates discussed their proposed policy initiatives to be implemented if elected.

The debate was moderated by Ryan Ray, unaffiliated with SGA, and was held in a round-table format of discussion. As the debate was about to begin, TVC Producer Annie Carr opened by saying, “I was going to make an April Fool’s Day joke, but I’ll leave that to Insert.”

Insert revolves around a satirical approach to typical SGA campaigning. Running is Quinn “Stone Cold” Cowan for President, Ryan “Night Hawk” Whitener for Vice President, Kyle “Ice Blood” White for Student Services Director and Cody “Big Honey” Walsh for Board of Trustees Representative.

Although the party is running as a parody group, many students in the audience showed enthusiastic support for their campaign efforts. The audience gave a roaring “hell yeah” after Insert announced their plan to get UT’s famous rock moved onto pedestrian walkway, or a statue of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson instead.

“The reason why I came was for Insert. I like the way they go about it.” said Madeline Young, a sophomore and psychology major who admitted to being fully aware they were a joke party.

Representatives of Insert donned sunglasses during the debate as they joked about how campaigns and policy initiatives were of little concern to their primary objective of forming a student militia based on Tennessee’s volunteer history from the war of 1812.

We Are UT consists of Carly Frensley for President, Jack Johnson for Vice President, Katelyn Hadder for SSD and R.J. Duncan for Board of Trustees. Duncan explained that if elected, “my goal is to represent all students at the university.”

Hadder told students, “People think me being young is a hindrance, but I think it’s empowering.”

Keny-Dugosh is composed of Kelsey Keny for President and Connor Dugosh for Vice President. Also running for Board of Trustees is Grant Davis and Matt Riley, with no affiliation to the We Are UT, Insert or Keny-Dugosh campaigns. Grant believes his experience in helping to eradicate excessive student fees will help with his campaign efforts.

“My actions speak louder than I could ever say,” said Grant.

Outside the debate was a panel of media spokespersons providing commentary. The panel featured Zach Dennis from the Tennessee Journalist, Rilwan Balogun from TVC, R.J. Vogt from The Daily Beacon and Cole Liles as an SGA analyst with previous student government experience.

SGA elections will open Wednesday, April 2 through Thursday April 3. Results will be announced at 6:30 p.m. on April 3.

Voting takes place at votesga.utk.edu

For more information on the parties or candidates, check out TNJN’s coverage.

Edited by Zach Dennis