Excellent piece in the Washington Post yesterday from retired Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens on the Second Amendment, how its original intent has been twisted by the gun lobby, and the five word addition that could clear up a blurry bit of the language that has allowed the NRA to get a philosophical toehold. The column is an excerpt from Stevens’ new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” I won’t steal Stevens’ thunder by telling you what the five words are, but it’s a solid fix and his thoughts in support of that fix are well worth reading, even if you’ll never see it implemented in your lifetime.
Lest you think the reliably liberal Stevens’ argument is just an example of his gun-grabbin’ politics, Stevens hearkens back to the days before the NRA sold the American public on the idea that Thomas Jefferson supported a God-Given Right to Bear Flamethrowers, recalling his own time on the bench and a comment by former Chief Justice Warren Burger — a long-time Republican and strict Constitutional constructionist, nominated to the court by noted liberal pinko Richard M. Nixon — to make his point about how drastically America’s interpretation of the Second Amendment has been changed by pro-gun propaganda in the past thirty years or so:
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…
When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.
Organizations such as the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” Burger himself remarked 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.”