Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens on Tuesday called for repealing the Second Amendment, saying it would be the best way to sap the power of gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
In an op-ed written for The New York Times, Justice Stevens said the amendment no longer applies in modern society, and getting rid of it would let Congress and legislatures do more to combat gun violence.
“It would make our schoolchildren safer than they have been since 2008 and honor the memories of the many, indeed far too many, victims of recent gun violence,” the 97-year-old former justice wrote.
He was the author of a dissent in the Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 ruling in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case that ruled the Second Amendment right to bear arms applied to individuals, granting them rights for personal protection.
In his op-ed, he said he still thinks he was right and the majority was wrong in that decision — but acknowledged the ruling is now precedent.
“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,” he wrote.
Gun-rights supporters vehemently denounced the stark call by a former justice to change the government’s founding document.
“Emboldened by the mainstream media, the gun control lobby is no longer distancing themselves from the radical idea of repealing the Second Amendment and banning all firearms,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s legislative lobbying arm.
Asked about the former justice’s piece Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump “fully” supports 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.
Thousands of activists held marches over the weekend to call for stricter gun controls in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and faculty.
But proposing a full repeal of the Second Amendment goes beyond what many activists — including key Democrats in Congress — have considered advisable or publicly admissible.
Only one amendment — the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol — has been outright repealed.
Gun control advocates have vowed to make their issue a defining one for the 2018 midterm elections, but public mentions of an outright repeal of the Second Amendment by a former Supreme Court justice could prove to be a huge motivator for gun rights supporters.
There has been speculation that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy could retire this summer, which would set up a bruising confirmation battle in the Senate as conservatives hope Mr. Trump can officially tilt the ideological balance of the court their way.
“Perhaps we need another two seats on the Supreme Court before we can make some headway in the way that we all, I think, would like,” said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition.
Since the Heller decision and a separate 2010 Supreme Court ruling that incorporated the Second Amendment as applying to state and local governments also, the high court has been less willing to take up other gun cases challenging the constitutionality of items like gun purchase waiting periods and assault weapons bans.
There are two main routes to amending the Constitution, and either would be a massive lift, especially on a controversial issue that divides the parties.
It would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, plus approval from three-quarters of the states. Neither party has had a majority of that size in the House since 1979 or in the Senate since 1965.
Or, two-thirds of the states could apply to Congress for a call of a convention under Article V of the Constitution, though it would still take the approval of at least three-quarters of the states, or 38, to ratify changes.