In high school debates, we have resolutions or topics. This month our topic is:

In the United States, private ownership of handguns ought to be banned.

Many debaters will specify a certain type of handgun and only defend that. For example, the private ownership of Glocks ought to be banned. Others will specify a certain type of handgun; a certain group that should not be able to own handguns; or a certain area within the US that should ban handguns.

Would this be grammatically coherent? On previous topics, people have argued that a phrase being a generic bare plural would prohibit specification. Is that the case here or is there some other rule that is being broken?

Here is an example to try to clear up confusion. The affirmative debater will argue that the private ownership of Glocks ought to be banned, and they will also argue that proving this is sufficient to entail the resolution. Some negative debaters will argue that the word "handguns" has no modifier in front of it i.e. some or certain, and thus the affirmative debater has not proven the resolution. Grammatically speaking who is correct?

  • 2
    I think this is Off Topic proofreading. The entire passage is clumsily phrased anyway; pluralising specification won't really improve things. (It probably won't make it any worse, but in the circumstances that's hardly surprising.) Dec 16, 2015 at 23:56
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    If narrowing is permitted, you could end up with the two teams arguing about completely different things (Team A for brand X, Team B against brand Y), which seems contrary to the essence of debate. Please provide the arguments for narrowing the terms to a specific brand or type.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 16, 2015 at 23:58
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    @FumbleFingers Although specific to debate, the question is whether a generic noun can be interpreted as a narrowed version of that noun when used in a given genre.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 17, 2015 at 0:02
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    @FumbleFingers OP is not asking whether the resolution is well-formed but whether it may be understood in a sense which would permit a debater required to defend the resolution to "specify" a narrow sense of private ownership of handguns. I think the question is Off Topic because it depends on the rules governing formal debate, not on the rules of English grammar. Dec 17, 2015 at 0:02
  • 1
    What is your question??? What is "this" that may or may not be grammatically accurate? What are you specifying that might violate some grammatical rule?? (I can see why you might get arguments about the wording, since it's incredibly confusing.)
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 17, 2015 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


This is really a topic to be considered by those running the debate series, and is not something that can be decided here. It may be that there is a tradition of strictly interpreting the statements, or it may be that some sort of "interpretation" is commonly allowed. The opinions of people here don't really matter, given that the statement can be interpreted several different ways.

In particular, it's unclear whether the statement implies all handguns or would accept an interpretation of some handguns.


If you say "Handguns should be banned" then you are being absolute. That would be acceptable in law as you would follow with specific exemptions (job types, gun types etc).

If debating the topic and saying that your position is that all handguns should be banned then this is still appropriate. If you are arguing that "some handguns should be banned" then that is also how you should title your argument. From thereon in you would, naturally, explain exemptions.

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