Former Supreme Court Justice Says These Five Words ‘Can Fix the Second Amendment’
As Americans grapple with the deadly shooting spree that marred a Las Vegas music festival, the political dialogue in America — as it usually does after an all-too-common mass shooting — has turned toward the issue of gun control. The debate, as it’s been for decades, centers around the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and whether strict gun control is legal under it, with each side suggesting statistics and historical precedent are on their side. In 2014, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Paul Stevens wrote an editorial for the Washington Post on the amendment and its relationship to modern laws.
Stevens first described the roots of the second amendment and discussed how it was interpreted for the first 200-plus years of its existence. “For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes; and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well regulated Militia.'”
However, John Paul Stevens asserted that this interpretation came under increasing attack by the National Rifle Association and other lobbying groups over the latter half of the 20th century. He, in turn, quoted former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger, who said in 1991 that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
From there, Stevens went through several cases where he felt that the Supreme Court misinterpreted the Second Amendment.
John Paul Stevens did offer a remedy, however, suggesting that a five-word addition to the Second Amendment could make all the difference and clear up the legal ambiguity surrounding it. He wrote:
“… the Second Amendment, which was adopted to protect the states from federal interference with their power to ensure that their militias were “well regulated,” has given federal judges the ultimate power to determine the validity of state regulations of both civilian and militia-related uses of arms. That anomalous result can be avoided by adding five words to the text of the Second Amendment to make it unambiguously conform to the original intent of its draftsmen. As so amended, it would read: ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.’”
While it’s unlikely that Stevens’ suggested change will ever come to pass, it’s an interesting one to ponder as the gun control debate continues to rage on.
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