Retired Justice Stevens Urges Repeal of Second Amendment

FILE – In this May 20, 2013 file photo, Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talks about his views and career during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Stevens said he thinks it is appropriate for Supreme Court justices to factor in political considerations when weighing a decision to retire. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Judge was appointed by Ford

“(Demonstrators) should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”

The national debate on guns that has erupted since the tragedy in Parkland in February took a surprise turn Tuesday morning when retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for the repeal.

In an essay on the New York Times’ website, retired Justice Stevens suggests that such a repeal would pave the way for gun control legislation, as it would weaken what he calls the National Rifle Association’s “propaganda weapon of immense power.”

Stevens retired from the Supreme Court in 2010 after serving for 35 years.  While he was generally considered to be on the liberal side of the court, he was appointed by Republican president Gerald Ford.  Before that, he had been appointed to the United States Court of Appeals by Richard Nixon.  As a Justice of the Supreme Court, Stevens was known to adapt his views on issues as new facts came to light.  Now, with the firearm debate raging, Stevens has called for demonstrators calling for gun control legislation to “seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”

“For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation”

Stevens makes the case that the amendment served a purpose that has long passed.  It is important, however, to recognize that former Justice Stevens is by no means calling for a sweeping ban on firearms or revoking the right of a law-abiding citizen to bear arms.

The argument is that the current interpretation of the Second Amendment precludes any significant progress on gun control legislation ideas big and small alike.  Those who crave that progress would, then, be best served to call for a repeal to the amendment.

Justice Stevens mentions a 2008 decision in District of Columbia v Heller that led to the current interpretation of the amendment.  The decision held that the Second Amendment protected the right to bear arms regardless of the uses associated with a lawful militia such as self defense.  Restrictive gun laws in D.C. were, therefore, unconstitutional and struck down in the decision.  Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion.

“The Second Amendment plainly does not protect the right to use a gun to rob a bank”

Stevens’ opinion said the case “bestowed a dramatic upheaval in the law”.  Justice Stevens pointed out in 2008 that the Second Amendment had no language in it that should preclude gun control legislation, and that the scope of the amendment was never meant to apply to the individual.  “No new evidence has surfaced since 1980 supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to curtail the power of Congress to regulate civilian use or misuse of weapons.”

In 2018, Stevens suggests that the use of the Amendment in this way has led to government protection of those who sell guns.  “It would eliminate the only legal rule that protects sellers of firearms in the United States — unlike every other market in the world”.

It is unknown how many members the NRA has, but their spokesman Wayne La Pierre has suggested it is over five million people.  What we do know is that the organization is not just for individual gun owners, but also for those who manufacture guns and those who sell them.  It is not a criticism of the organization to point out that one of its main purposes is to protect gun manufacturers and sellers through lobbying.  It is, in that respect, but one of a wide array of organizations that advocate for members of a profession.

In the current interpretation of the Second Amendment, the association can offer those members who sell guns complete protection from any further restrictions.  This is a power that no other professional organization can offer, from teachers’ unions to state bar associations.

As the gun debate continues to unfold, Justice Stevens’ strong statement Tuesday morning is certain to have an immediate impact in discourse.