Constitution Day Lesson Plan: Gun Safety Debate

By Annie Thornton 09.01.2016 blog

September 17 is Constitution Day. Explore this rich primary source document with your students to provide historical context surrounding today’s important current events debates. Day two features a Channel One News video about the gun safety debate to connect this living document to current events. Channel One News Premium offers a trove of lesson planning materials. Subscribers to Channel One News Premium get access to the daily show, daily lesson plans, standards-aligned activities and a video library of more than 2,000 videos. Learn more.

Constitution Day Lesson Plan: Day 1

Students will:

  • analyze the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
  • work collaboratively to examine, summarize and present one Article and one Amendment.
  • discuss the concept of amending the Constitution.

Warm-up: Display image of U.S. Constitution.

Ask students: What is this document? What do you know about it?

  • When was it written? (Signed on September 17, 1787.)
  • By whom? (Representatives from the 13 colonies at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Signees include George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin)
  • For what purpose? (After defeating the British in the Revolutionary War, the U.S. colonies began to establish their identity as a new country. The Constitutional Convention was organized to write a formal document that established rules and created a new government structure for the soon-to-be Unites States of America.)

Words in the News

  • Preamble: an introductory statement attached to a document, setting forth its purpose.
  • Articles: seven sections of the U.S. Constitution that work together to establish the branches of the federal government and describe what powers they have.
  • Amendment: a change in the words or meaning of a law or document (such as a constitution).
  • Bill of Rights: the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791.
  • Ratification: to formally approve.

Primary Source Document Analysis: Have students read the Preamble to the Constitution.

Check for Understanding: What is the purpose of the Preamble? Ask students to rewrite the Preamble using their own words. Share a few responses.

Small-groups: Assign each group one article (1-7). Students work collaboratively to answer the following questions, then share their response with class.

  • Which branch of government or government policy is addressed in this article?
  • What are a few important guidelines regarding the branch or policy?
  • Summarize the article a few sentences.

Pairs: Assign each pair one or two of the 27 amendments. Pairs work together to answer the following questions, then share their responses with class.

  • Which right does this amendment grant? What issue is addressed by this amendment?
  • What date was this amendment ratified?

Discuss: Review Article Five. Why did the framers allow for the possibility of amendments to the Constitution?

Closing: If you were proposing an additional amendment to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be and why? 

Constitution Day Lesson Plan: Day 2

*Student Advisory: Video contains images of and discussion about firearms and gun-related violence and may not be suitable for younger students.

Students will:

  • examine the history behind the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
  • compare/contrast opposing interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Warm-up: Ask students:

  • What is the Bill of Rights?
  • What right does the Second Amendment address?
  • What do you know about the Second Amendment?

Watch: Gun Safety Debate

Check for Understanding:

  • How has public support for gun control changed since 1990? Why do you think it has changed?
  • What does the Second Amendment say, exactly?
  • How has the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of this amendment changed over the past forty years?

View Slideshow

Image Credit: Francois Polito

In 1783, after nearly a decade of bloody battles, 13 of Britain’s North American colonies won their independence. In 1787, representatives from the former colonies got together to sign the Constitution, creating the United States of America and bringing all of them under the rule of one common government.

Image Credit: Junius Brutus Stearns, painter /

But there was disagreement among the representatives. The Federalists, a group led by New York’s Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong central government. The Antifederalists, a group led by Virginia’s Patrick Henry, worried about giving the government too much power. They hadn’t fought for independence from England only to lose their newfound freedom to an American tyrant.

Image Credit: George Bagby Matthews (1857 - 1943), after Thomas Sully (1783-1872)

To protect their new country from tyranny, the Antifederalists pushed for amendments to the Constitution that would guarantee United States citizens certain personal freedoms. In 1791, the Antifederalists got what they wanted: a document known as the Bill of Rights added ten such amendments to the Constitution

Image Credit: Slowking4

Today, the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is the subject of major controversy. Gun violence causes an average of 32 American deaths per day, an average of 8 deaths per day among American kids and teens. A 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed the lives of 27 people, 20 of them children, and led many to demand laws that limit gun rights.

Image Credit: Aldaron

The Second Amendment’s language is famously unclear. It says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Those who believe the government shouldn’t control firearms point to the words “shall not be infringed,” while supporters of gun control stress the words “well regulated.”

Image Credit: Steve Petteway

Disagreements about language have also played out in the Supreme Court. In the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to own guns for self-protection. Before that, the Supreme Court had interpreted the first part of the amendment as only protecting gun use for militias.

Image Credit: ChrisEngelsma

Some protections offered by the Bill of Rights are not absolute. In the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protection of free speech doesn’t apply to speech meant to provoke violence.

Image Credit: Francois Polito

Pro-gun activists argue that limiting gun rights would limit people’s freedom and their right to protect themselves against criminals and an out-of-control government. Supporters of gun control believe that, like the First Amendment, the Second Amendment isn’t absolute and that its benefits should be weighed against its costs. Which side do you agree with?

Check for Understanding:

  • What idea did Federalists and Anti-Federalists at the Constitutional Convention disagree upon?
  • What problem did the Bill of Rights solve?
  • Why is the First Amendment mentioned in this slideshow?

Explanatory Writing: How do the gun-rights advocates interpret the Second Amendment? How do the gun-control advocates interpret it? Choose one side of the gun debate and explain how that side interprets the Second Amendment to support their argument. Use evidence from the text to demonstrate that view. Do not choose a side in the argument. Only give an explanation for what the gun-control advocates or the gun-rights advocates believe.

Exit Ticket: Which side of this argument makes the most sense to you? Why?


  1. aiden

    I things that guns should be allowed. Why? guns should be allowed for self-protection lets say that some did with a pistol were coming for you and you had nothing what would you do give them all your money? See my point, in my opinion, I believe it right to own a gun for self-protection.

  2. Brayden Sieg-Edwards

    I think it is would be aloud to have a gun if you have a permit for owning and having a gun and being aloud to carry it with you.

    • Dad

      You are incorrect

  3. Abby

    I think guns are ok just for legal stuff, police officers, etc, but I don’t believe people who own guns should use them for random use or hurting other citizens.

    • logan

      well i think you’re wrong.Because no matter what you do people will have guns they will sell them in’s not going to make a difference how supposedly safe you make it people will still find a way to get guns so it really doesn’t matter.

  4. Marquez Morgan

    If you think about guns dont kill pepole pepole kill pepole pepole act like guns get up out of their case and go shoot somone and go back i LOVE GUNS their awsome i own a real rifle my self

  5. Juan

    i think that is is good to have a gun i mean some people hate guns and some use them for bad thing but i like them they even protected me so i think that it is good

  6. jeremiah

    by the way guys i’m new to this blog thing, so who wants to talk about guns!!!!!!!

  7. Jayvin

    guns are only good sometimes

  8. Jayvin

    I think you they should look at you record and then sing a lot of papers to get a gun

  9. Adrienne

    Yes. I agree that guns should be used for safety, and hunting. Police officers also need them.

  10. Tristan

    It could be right. I’ve seen people use guns for good things. That’s gun safety in my opinion.And use and bring your guns if you need to.

  11. Keelyn Wilkerson

    yes it’s nice to have a gun but only for safety and not violence

    • Jayvin

      that is true

  12. Jeremiah

    I think that you should have to go through more checks in order to get a gun

  13. Cory B

    I think that you should be allowed to have a gun. Because you will never know when your going to need to use it.

  14. Bobby

    I think befor you can own a gun a gun you shuld go through speashal training to use it

    • Brayden Sieg-Edwards

      There is a thing called hunter safety for a reason I am about to go through it and specialists teach you about the safety of of a gun and how to use it or you could heart someone and or heart you’re self.

  15. Matthew Dudley

    I think the people who sell guns have to see the persons background check before they can purchase the gun.

    • Juan

      they do check there back ground and they check your finger print then they give the information to the fbi to see if your are elegeble to own a gun.

  16. Alyissia

    I think its right to have Gun Safety because you will never know what will happen if someone had a gun and starts to play with they might shot you

    • Matthew Dudley

      I think its OK to use guns,but only for self defense.

    • Bobby

      I thing befor owning a gun you should no how to use it safly

    • Chris

      First off with out guns there is no protection for your self and when police get to the scene it is to late. second if someone is planing on robbing a bank or doing a crime in the first place than what is stoping them from getting a gun. Last most if not all attacks or robberies would be done with a gun because they know they would not have a gun so any house now is a easy target.

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