While liberals were cheering retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ call to repeal the Second Amendment in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. last month, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake said Stevens just handed the NRA and conservatives a big gift.
One of the biggest threats to the recovery of the Democratic Party these days is overreach. Having seen what Republicans have accomplished while pushing to the right, Democrats are debating how hard to push in the opposite direction — on the minimum wage, on abortion, on health care and on education. A party that was once afraid of being saddled with supporting “government-run” health care is increasingly okay with the word “liberal” and even voted in droves for a self-described socialist in 2016. And its 2020 hopefuls are leading the leftward charge.
But rarely do we see such an unhelpful, untimely and fanciful idea as the one put forward by retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens.
In a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday, Stevens calls for a repeal of the Second Amendment. The move might as well be considered an in-kind contribution to the National Rifle Association, to Republicans’ efforts to keep the House and Senate in 2018, and to President Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. In one fell swoop, Stevens has lent credence to the talking point that the left really just wants to get rid of gun ownership and reasserted the need for gun-rights supporters to prevent his ilk from ever being appointed again (with the most obvious answer being: Vote Republican).
Stevens said that the Second Amendment is a relic of the 18th century and that we would be much safer without it, as firearms sellers would no longer be protected.
Blake said one of the problems with Stevens’ repeal idea is that almost no national Democrat is calling for it as they probably realize just how hard it would be to accomplish — a Constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of the House and Senate to propose and would have to be ratified by 38 of the 50 states.
Even that, though, probably works against the ultimate goal of passing more realistic gun-control measures. This is exactly the kind of thing that motivates the right and signals to working-class swing voters that perhaps the Democratic Party and the political left doesn’t really get them. And to the extent it catches on — which it could somewhat, given nearly half the party is on board, at least in spirit — it will confirm plenty of preexisting beliefs about what Democrats actually want.
And Democrats can’t play the purity game like Republicans can. The median congressional district and the median state are both red, and we still live in a country where a sizable majority of people very much believe in the Second Amendment — even as they also might believe in checks on gun ownership. A bipartisan Fox News poll in 2013 showed 72 percent of Americans worried that banning certain guns would lead to the erosion of other constitutionally protected rights.
Stevens just signaled that at least one liberal appointee who inhabited the bench that could decide such matters really does want to take away one of those rights. And that’s about the best Republicans could have hoped for.