Retired Supreme Court justice urges repeal of Second Amendment
WASHINGTON — Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment to allow for significant gun control legislation.
The 97-year-old Stevens says in an essay on The New York Times website that repeal would weaken the National Rifle Association’s ability to “block constructive gun control legislation.”
Stevens was on the losing end of a 2008 ruling in which the high court held that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to own a gun for self-defense. He had previously called for changing the Second Amendment to permit gun control.
Stevens says the decision in that case, District of Columbia v. Heller, “has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power.” Stevens retired from the court in 2010, after more than 35 years.
Citizen support: In his essay published Tuesday, Stevens talks about the “March for Our Lives” events on Saturday, which drew crowds in cities across the country. Stevens said the demonstrations “reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.”
He said the support “is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms.”
But Stevens called on demonstrators to “seek more effective and more lasting reform.”
“They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment,” he wrote, arguing that the amendment was designed to counter the threat a national standing army was once thought to pose to free states — a concern he said no longer applies. The constitutional right to bear arms, he argues, is “a relic of the 18th century.”
Stevens, who retired as the longest-serving justice in U.S. history, wrote that the court’s 2008 ruling that there is an individual right to bear arms overturned 200 years of legal history during which the Second Amendment “was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation.”
He approvingly quoted former Chief Justice Warren Burger describing the National Rifle Association’s ultimately successful attack on that understanding as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Repealing the amendment would be extremely difficult. An amendment to the Constitution can only be proposed either by Congress with a two-thirds vote in both houses or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. The amendment then has to be approved by three-quarters of the states.
Response: Asked at a White House briefing whether President Donald Trump had any reaction to Stevens’ comments, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president and administration “still fully support the Second Amendment.”
“We think that the focus has to remain on removing weapons from dangerous individuals, not on blocking all Americans from their constitutional rights,” she said.
The National Rifle Association also issued a statement in response to Stevens’ essay.
“The men and women of the National Rifle Association, along with the majority of the American people and the Supreme Court, believe in the Second Amendment right to self-protection and we will unapologetically continue to fight to protect this fundamental freedom,” the statement said.