erik lundegaard


Tuesday March 27, 2018

John Paul Stevens Gets Legal on the NRA's Ass

I had two immediate thoughts when I went on Twitter this morning and saw what was trending:

  • Repeal the Second Amendment: “Yeah, right. Good luck.”
  • John Paul Stevens: “Oh no! Hope he's OK!”

Turns out they were related. Stevens, a former justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by Pres. Ford, had penned an Op-Ed in The New York Times entitled “Repeal the Second Amendment.”  

OK, now I was intrigued. But not surprised. 

In Chapter Six of Stevens' 2014 book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” he takes on the Second Amendment, and comes out in favor of mitigation. He also focuses on the amendment's original meaning. The key is in the first clause, the whole “well-regulated militia” crap. To Stevens, the amendment was designed to protect states from the federal government. It was the Jeffersonian counterpoint to a fear of the Hamiltonian. Bluntly: It's a collective right rather than an individual right. 

He repeats some of these thoughts in the Op-Ed:

In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.” 

During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “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.”

And then in 2008 the conservative court, in a 5-4 vote, codified that fraud in District of Columbia v. Heller. Stevens dissented. He continues to dissent. 

The piece is great. I'm a longtime fan of Stevens, who, as a kid, saw Game 3 of the 1932 World Series in which Babe Ruth supposedly called his shot, and who, as a justice, got more liberal as the court got more conservative. I also like that he begins the piece by applauding the millions that marched on Saturday—and the kids in particular who organized it. 

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.

Posted at 12:45 PM on Tuesday March 27, 2018 in category Law