BY REBECCA AGULE
On Thursday April 5, 2007, the Harvard Law School Forum hosted National Rifle Association President Sandra Froman in a discussion entitled, “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms – What is the State of Second Amendment Law”.
About thirty students were in attendance to hear Froman, a 1974 graduate of the Law School and the second female president of the NRA, speak. As the audience filtered into Langdell South, they shared stories of personal experiences with guns, some even showing pictures on their computers. Those in attendance seemed mostly supportive of Froman, initially evidenced by their descriptions of individual gun collections, and later by their questions and comments.
The Forum’s Vice President for Publicity, Benjamin Gould, made short opening remarks, first dedicating the evening to the memory of Law School students killed in World War II, then noting that Froman, “publicly promotes NRA as a civil rights organization.” Gould also carefully provided the caveat that, “the opinions expressed by the Forum’s invited guests do not represent the views of the Forum”
Froman began by recounting the history of Second Amendment jurisprudence, calling it one of the least developed areas of case law. “It is just 27 words,” she said. But sometimes “just a single word, or sometimes the lack of a single word, can make all the difference.”
The early 1900’s saw modest attempts at gun control, but it was not until the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., that strong anti-gun sentiment began to grow.
When asked what incited her interest in gun ownership, Froman admitted to having been complacent about her own rights. “I was practicing law in LA, fat dumb and happy, trying to make partner in my law firm when someone tried to break into my house, and I realized that no one was going to protect me but me,” she said.
She continued, “If you don’t know what your rights are, you don’t have any.”
Froman became most impassioned when speaking about NRA v Nagan, a case currently making its way through the courts. Based on the New Orleans’ response to post-hurricane Katrina security, this case calls into question Mayor Ray Nagan’s decision to confiscate citizens’ guns “at time when the government couldn’t protect them,” Froman said.
“If the government isn’t protecting you, then it’s an insurance policy,” she said.
She continued, analogizing guns and fire extinguishers. “You need to have a fire extinguisher, you need to have it pressurized, and you need to know how to use it.”
It seemed Froman could find a bright side, though, adding that “shining on the misdeeds” that happened in places like New Orleans was an effective way of mobilizing gun supporters to fight for Second Amendment rights.
She also called the long-standing D.C. handguns ban one of the most “draconian” laws in the country. “If anything in the world can possibly violate the Second Amendment,” she said, “then surely the D.C. Gun Ban can.” The case of Parker v. District of Columbia, brought by the Cato Institute, is fighting the constitutionality of this ban.
Throughout the evening, Froman did not shy away from strong language in describing what she feels hangs in the balance. “The 2nd amendment is a doomsday provision, when all other rights have failed – however improbable these circumstances may be today,” she said. At another point, she commented, “For every American who cares about individual liberty and personal freedom, the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
One Business School Student, a gun owner who refused to join the NRA, asked why the organization did not promote a more conservative, public friendly approach.
Froman felt there were many aspects to that question. “If you are a woman who is being stalked by an angry ex-spouse, how does a waiting period benefit society,” she said. “If you already have one gun, how does a waiting period help?”
“The 2nd amendment is not just a convenience, it is a right,” she continued. “People don’t take our rights from us; we give them up.”
Law School student James B. Tarter asked Froman if she was worried that the courts would force her to define what the 2nd Amendment meant by “arms”.
“Those are the questions that are less fundamental than whether you or I can possess weapons,” she responded.
In its own words, the Forum is a “non-partisan student organization of Harvard Law School, dedicated to bringing open discussion of a broad range of legal, political and social issues to the Harvard Law School campus.”