Sometimes Big Questions don’t direct learning; they emerge from it. Lost in thought and feelings of despair over the latest tragedy in Florida, I decided to ditch my regularly scheduled government programming and opt instead to hold a congressional hearing simulation on gun control. My classroom will become the Senate Judiciary Committee considering a bill called the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This bill passed the House of Representatives in the fall and is slated for debate in the Senate this spring. In a nutshell, the bill says that any person from a state which has legalized concealed carry can travel into any state which has outlawed the practice. Essentially then, should this bill become law, a person’s right to concealed carry would have to be honored by all 50 states. Students assume the roles of actual Senate Judiciary Committee members who question other students who are playing the role of interest group representatives giving testimony on their positions for and against the bill.
With this latest tragedy fresh in the minds of legislators, the chances of this bill passing the Senate are slim. Yet, this activity is a valuable chance to explore why it is so hard for our society to agree on gun issues. Also, this is a golden opportunity to dive deeper into how all aspects of our government work together to try to address problems.
Consider just some of the areas of government touched by this issue:
Civil liberties (2nd Amendment)
Supreme Court ( U.S. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago )
Congress (bicameral legislature, filibuster, hearing, committees, mark-up)
Political parties and ideology (liberal, conservative, polarization, single-issue voters, party discipline)
Interest groups (information, advocacy, upper-class bias)
Campaigns and Elections (Pacs and SuperPacs, Citizens United, FEC)
Federalism (full-faith and credit clause, 10th Amendment, 14th Amendment selective incorporation)
Presidency (informal/formal powers, executive orders)
What about the Big Questions?
After the simulation is over, each student will generate a Big Question about the gun issue which emerged as a result of what they learned during the simulation. It’s hard to predict exactly what the students will want to ask but I’m confident the questions will lend fresh perspectives on an issue whose resolution is long overdue.
In the next post I will share some of their Big Questions!
If you try this activity out, let me know how it goes! @dmfouts
Great idea. Might include the supremacy clause along with the 10th A., given the decisions in Heller and McDonald.
I have a few predictions on the outcome having done something similar in the past. Hard for students to grasp the political reality ($-special interest pressure-desire to be re-elected) vs. the desire to do “what is right.” Political courage is easier in the classroom, unfortunately.
Interested to see how it goes.
Thanks for the posts, always enlightening!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Chris. Points well taken. I always find it interesting that when kids get frustrated, they struggle to make the leap and say that if they just voted, then they could either hire or fire whomever they wanted. They don’t associate voting with power. Maybe this gun control issue can change that disposition.
Great ideas Dan. Political bias is leading the way in American politics no matter which side of the spectrum you call home. We need critical thinking which is in short supply just about every place you look.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Agreed. And critical thinking starts with an honest assessment of both sides of an issue, which is what I hope for out of the simulation. Thanks for the feedback