John Paul Stevens’ call this week to repeal the Second Amendment created a powerful multi-generational bridge between a 97-year-old retired Supreme Court justice and the tens of thousands of passionate young people who have been marching across America.
Young and old, they have had it with gun violence.
But we disagree with Justice Stevens and anybody else who thinks the Second Amendment is the appropriate target. We are loath to support any amendment to the Bill of Rights and, realistically, our nation is not about to repeal the Second Amendment. That would require either a two-thirds vote of approval by both the U.S. House and Senate or a two-thirds vote at an unprecedented national convention. Then the amendment would have to be ratified by 38 states.
This will not happen.
Justice Stevens’ call for the Second Amendment’s appeal does offer us an excellent opportunity, however, to emphasize just how reasonable — how mainstream and non-extreme — most calls for gun reform really are in this country. Almost every change advocated, such as a ban on the sale of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, is arguably constitutional anyway. There is no need for an amendment. There is a need only for legislators who are willing to stand up to the gun lobby.
Kathleen Sances, executive director of the Gun Violence Protection PAC-Illinois, says the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has created a “perfect storm” of support for taking action against gun violence. And a national system of gun licensing and registration would go far toward keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. A ban on assault weapons would reduce the number of mass killings in schools and elsewhere.
The political challenge in reforming our nation’s gun laws is to aim neither too low or high. Small-bore legislation, such as a ban on the “bump stocks” that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, would amount to empty reform. Calls for appealing the Second Amendment, with all respect to Justice Stevens, only fire up those Americans who are convinced that crazy liberals wants to confiscate every single one of their guns, even Grandpa’s old deer rifle.
Since the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, young protesters appear to have stopped the momentum of the “any gun, anywhere, any time” crowd. Now a sustained effort is necessary to persuade lawmakers that it is in their interest, if they care about political survival, to take gun violence seriously and nudge the courts toward permitting sensible restrictions.
Trying to repeal the Second Amendment won’t accomplish much.
Registering to vote, and voting, just might.
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