John Paul Stevens, who served on the high court from 1975 to 2010, praised the March for Our Lives protests over the weekend in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday. Instead of backing calls for new legislation, however, he took aim at the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual’s right to gun ownership in the Second Amendment for the first time.
That decision—which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable—has provided the NRA with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.
“That simple but dramatic action would move Saturday’s marchers closer to their objective than any other possible reform,” he explained. Simple though his proposal may be; easy to accomplish, it is not. The United States has only amended the Constitution 27 times since 1789, most recently in 1992. The Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited alcohol sales and manufacturing nationwide, is the only one to have been repealed.
Rewriting the Constitution is an issue of special interest for Stevens. In 2014, he published a book that proposed six amendments to overturn Supreme Court rulings that he viewed as mistaken. At the time, Stevens offered a more narrow revision to the Second Amendment. He proposed rewriting it so that it read, “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.” Those five words would “make it unambiguously conform to the original intent of its draftsmen,” he explained.
The retired justice’s latest proposal is politically impossible in the short term, to say the least. But if the tide eventually turns toward repeal, pro-gun organizations will have only themselves to blame. Gun-rights groups like the NRA frame even modest efforts at gun control as a threat to the Second Amendment. Is it any wonder that, when faced with the routine slaughter of children, some of their opponents would take that perspective to its logical conclusion?