The Second Amendment in the dock: Editorial Board Roundtable

March 30, 2018 GMT

The Second Amendment in the dock: Editorial Board Roundtable

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Students who survived the Parkland, Florida school shooting wouldn’t go there, but a retired U.S. Supreme Court justice did.

Justice John Paul Stevens argued in a Tuesday New York Times op-ed, reprinted  in The Plain Dealer Wednesday, that Parkland students and other demonstrators advocating gun control ought to push also for repeal of the Second Amendment.

Stevens called the Second Amendment “a relic of the 18th century” that has given the National Rifle Association a “propaganda weapon of immense power.” He had earlier called for tweaking the amendment in his 2014 book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” 

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that, “THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED!” -- yep, all caps, to show his strong disapproval. 


THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED! As much as Democrats would like to see this happen, and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, NO WAY. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018

So what do you think? Is Stevens right that the Second Amendment has been subverted by the NRA and ought to be swept away like Prohibition, the constitutional amendment that banned alcohol? 

The Second Amendment, ratified as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, says that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Stevens, 97, wrote that the Supreme Court long interpreted the amendment as “not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation.”

The landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision changed that when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Washington, D.C., could not ban possession of handguns, finding “the inherent right of self-defense” to be central to the Second Amendment. Stevens was one of the four dissenters in the case.

Stevens, who retired from the court in 2010, said repealing the amendment would undermine the NRA, which he accused of blocking legislation on gun control.

So should gun control advocates take aim at the Second Amendment as Stevens suggested or should they save their powder for legislative gun control measures? 

The Editorial Board Roundtable unloads its thoughts below, and we urge you to share yours in the comments. 


Sharon Broussard, chief editorial writer, Stevens made it seem that it is simple to repeal an amendment. No, it isn’t. That said, I could live with the Second Amendment if it was accompanied by limitations on guns with teeth. Do people really need AR-15′s and such to shoot deer and other wildlife?  Nope.

Ted Diadiun, editorial board member: I respond to the question with heartfelt gratitude that John Paul Stevens is no longer on the Supreme Court -- even though his 2010 retirement begat much-younger leftist Justice Elena Kagan. In his book, Stevens suggested a change in the wording of the Second Amendment; he has now upgraded his assault on the Constitution to a call for a full repeal. Elsewhere in the book, he recommended abolishing the death penalty, eliminating sovereign immunity that prevents people from suing the federal government or its states, and also eliminating the anti-commandeering doctrine, which would expand federal power over the states. Thank goodness the damage he can do today is limited to his maunderings on The New York Times op-ed page. 

Tom Suddes, editorial writer: Justice Stevens’ idea, in an ideal world, might have appeal. But as a practical matter, bids to repeal the Amendment likely would only further fuel the passions the gun lobby stokes. The preferable approach would be rewrite the amendment to make it clear precisely what states and localities may and may not do to manage what is, arguably, a pressing matter of public health.

Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, Frankly, the Second Amendment isn’t the problem. It merely memorializes something that’s been true since this nation’s founding in revolution -- that Americans want the right to own guns. That won’t change. But that doesn’t confer a constitutional right to own mass-casualty weapons. This nation’s shameful political paralysis on such needed measures as universal background checks, banning the sale of high-powered, military-style, semi-automatic weapons and of lethal add-ons like bump stocks and large-capacity magazines, its inability to persuade Congress to end the prohibition on full federal data-sharing on crime-gun sales and use, and the blind partisanship that causes state legislatures like Ohio’s to bar its own gun-violence-beset cities from adopting the gun laws they deem best are the real problems. Those are the ones all right-minded citizens should tackle, through the ballot box.

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