Tuesday, March 27, 2018


For decades, gun absolutists have been telling us that even the most modest, incremental gun control laws mustn't be passed because passing them would the first step onto a "slippery slope" that would soon lead to nationwide confiscation of all privately owned guns and a ban on individual gun ownership. That's ridiculous, but most of the time the scaremongering works.

Oddly, the same people who have succeeded in blocking nearly every gun control baby step in recent years are now howling about a New York Times op-ed by retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens titled "Repeal the Second Amendment," which proposes something they can prevent without breaking a sweat:
For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation....

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

... Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’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.
It's not going to happen, as The Washington Post's Aaron Blake explains:
Constitutional amendments require two-thirds of the House and Senate to be proposed, and three-fourths of states (38 of 50) to be ratified. In other words, Republicans who wouldn't even vote for a limited bipartisan background checks bill after Newtown would have to vote for this (provided Democrats don't suddenly gain historic majorities in Congress), and Republican-dominated states like Indiana, Missouri and/or Nebraska would likely have to ratify it.
Stevens, who twice calls this a "simple" solution, doesn't address the political difficulty of implementing it. That was addressed, however, by Bret Stephens in an October Times op-ed also titled "Repeal the Second Amendment." (Yes, it's odd that the best-known proponents of this idea are a former Supreme Court justice appointed by a Republican president and a right-wing op-ed columnist, whose surnames are homonyms.) In that op-ed, Bret Stephens wrote:
Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones.
But same-sex marriage proponents changed a lot of hearts and minds in the years before Obergefell. By contrast, America hasn't begun to discuss Second Amendment repeal in any serious way. There are high levels of support for universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, and other gun control proposals, but it doesn't that most Americans are willing to go this far.

More important, the small number of one-issue voters who won't tolerate even incremental steps in this direction will intimidate any Republican member of Congress or state legislator who considers this, as well as a significant percentage of the Democrats.

Why do we have these discussions? Why do we believe in "magic bullet" solutions to our problems? This reminds me of the call for the removal of President Trump under the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Many people like this idea because Trump could be removed from office by a simple majority vote of the Cabinet, which would declare him unfit for office ... except that Trump's own Cabinet is never going to vote to remove him, and even if it does, Trump can insist that he's fit and it will take a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to overrule him. (Impeachment in the House requires only a simple majority, although conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote.)

We want these things to be easy. They're not. If we want change, we need to do hard, tedious work, be patient, and expect setbacks. We need to pick away at current laws, and win a lot of tough elections.

Matt Yglesias makes a good point:

We could have been on our way to a Supreme Court that might issue a ruling like that, but then there was that 2016 election.... Oh well -- maybe in half a century.

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