A Response to an Op-Ed by Justice Stevens to Repeal the 2nd Amendment

by Tom Wolpert on March 27, 2018

Recently, in the wake of the Parkland shootings, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment.  Below is my posted response.

The real purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to prevent the federal government from disarming the states. It was, as all the amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were, a limit on federal power, not directives or prohibitions to any state by or from the federal government. The states retained their sovereign rights to self-govern, unless such a right was explicitly surrendered to the new federal government. Self-government means that the people of Pennsylvania may choose differently than the people of Texas, or Connecticut, and all are acting responsibly. The entire premise of Stevens’ argument is wrong, as is the Heller decision  (a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to afford individuals a federal Constitutional right to bear arms), for the same reason: such acts of state self-government (who can buy guns, what kind, who can keep them, what regulation of them?) were never intended to be extinguished by the new federal constitution (new in 1789). The people of Pennsylvania are a proud and dignified people: we are entitled to, and capable of, making our own decisions about the rights or regulations concerning the possession of firearms. That was the original Constitutional deal, and the Federalist Papers were explicit and repetitive on the point.

By way of further comment, in an ideal world, occasioned by the work of the Holy Spirit in every heart, it would be possible to disagree on such issues.  Christians today disagree on such points in good faith.   Where people reasonably and respectfully differ, how do we decide – how do we go about self-governing?  If all were perfect, we could just as easily have a monarchy as an anarchy, or any form of government in between.  But we in the United States had a certain kind of vision, reflected in our Constitution.  It assumed that the people acted through their state representatives to govern themselves, and acknowledged there were substantial areas where such powers ought to be conveyed to a central, federal government.   There have been powerful reasons why the federal government has assumed powers that were once understood to belong to the states; but we are now encountering, in the debate over the 2nd Amendment, the shortcomings of such reasoning.  You can’t make the people of Texas view this issue the way the people of Connecticut view it.  Applying political muscle does not make it better; although that political muscle, the power to compel, is inherent in government and law, with many millions of firearms in circulation, anything less than local, voluntary compliance is not going to work.  Heller should be reversed, and the entire context of federalizing important decisions concerning how we self-govern, and then referring them to the U.S. Supreme Court, should be discarded.  We can do this in Pennsylvania, including the regulation of personal firearms; and if it turns out we have made a mistake, we are equally capable of learning from our mistakes and fixing them.

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