New Yorker Writer: Second Amendment, ‘Properly Understood,’ Allows For Liberal Gun-Control Measures

In recent years, some advocates of increased gun control have called for repeal or revision of the Second Amendment, but The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik believes that either would be superfluous.

In a Friday article, Gopnik asserted that “the only amendment necessary for gun legislation…is the Second Amendment itself, properly understood, as it was for two hundred years in its plain original sense. This sense can be summed up in a sentence: if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase ‘well regulated’ in the amendment.”

From Gopnik’s post (bolding added):

Gun control ends gun violence as surely an antibiotics end bacterial infections, as surely as vaccines end childhood measles—not perfectly and in every case, but overwhelmingly and everywhere that it’s been taken seriously and tried at length. These lives can be saved. Kids continue to die en masse because one political party won’t allow that to change, and the party won’t allow it to change because of the irrational and often paranoid fixations that make the massacre of students and children an acceptable cost of fetishizing guns…

…[T]he only amendment necessary for gun legislation, on the local or national level, is the Second Amendment itself, properly understood, as it was for two hundred years in its plain original sense. This sense can be summed up in a sentence: if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase “well regulated” in the amendment…

…Antonin Scalia, writing for a 5–4 majority [in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision], insisted that, whether he wanted it to or not, the Second Amendment protected an individual right to own a weapon…

This was an astounding constitutional reading, or misreading, as original as Citizens United…Anyone who wants to both grasp that decision’s radicalism and get a calm, instructive view of what the Second Amendment does say, and was intended to say, and was always before been understood to say, should read Justice John Paul Stevens’s brilliant, persuasive dissent in that case…

So there is no need to amend the Constitution, or to alter the historical understanding of what the Second Amendment meant...All that is necessary for sanity to rule again, on the question of guns, is to restore the amendment to its commonly understood meaning as it was articulated by [Stevens]. And all you need for that is one saner and, in the true sense, conservative Supreme Court vote.

In a book published in 2014, four years after he retired from the court, Stevens endorsed amending the Second Amendment to read, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed” (bolding added).

Gopnik doesn’t mention that beginning in the late 1980s many prominent liberal legal scholars, such as Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas and Laurence Tribe of Harvard, have warmed to an individual-rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. In 2007, Tribe told The New York Times that as a longtime backer of “very comprehensive gun control,” his reconsidered position “came as something of a surprise to me, and an unwelcome surprise.”

Judiciary Culture/Society Guns Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats New Yorker History U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens Laurence Tribe


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