Magann: Safety Under the Law

Opposing the 2nd Amendment Undermines Gun Control.

by Matthew Magann | 4/6/18 1:55am

 For decades, the National Rifle Association has advanced a slippery-slope argument. Give an inch on gun policy, the rhetoric goes, and gun control advocates will take a mile. In 1994, then-NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre termed waiting periods on gun purchases “just one more step in the march toward national disarmament.” The NRA similarly denounces most firearm regulation as part of a broader plan to eliminate Second Amendment rights. That argument is both deceptive and untrue. Far from a conspiracy to seize Americans’ guns, sensible gun restrictions are a widely-supported public safety measure.

Reasonable gun reforms do not threaten the right to bear arms. Recent activism in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida does not target the Second Amendment; it targets military-grade weapons and the ease with which dangerous individuals can obtain them. The movement’s goals in no way threaten the right to own guns. They merely demarcate certain particularly-dangerous weapons as out of bounds, something which, so long as the fundamental components of the right to bear arms remain intact, courts have repeatedly ruled does not violate the Second Amendment. Opposing a few particularly-dangerous varieties of firearm does not make one anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment. Many Americans understand this: a Quinnipiac University poll from last month found that two thirds of respondents support a ban on assault weapons. Gun control advocates must stand up to the NRA, which has consistently mischaracterized them as against opponents of all gun ownership. They must continue to push their principled, common-sense opposition to America’s flawed gun regulations.

Last week, however, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens did the exact opposite. In a New York Times op-ed, he proposed the repeal of the Second Amendment. Without going into much detail, Stevens urged that protesters go beyond semiautomatic weapons bans and universal background checks and instead take on the Second Amendment. I can hardly think of a better way to torpedo gun control.

Justice Stevens’ article brought the NRA’s strawman gun-control advocate to life. Stevens treated the repeal of the Second Amendment as the ideal end-goal of gun regulation, with moderate restrictions merely a compromise. His position fit perfectly with the NRA’s caricature of gun control. Pundits immediately seized on the justice’s op-ed as an example of the gun control movement’s true intentions. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, writing in the New York Post, described the piece as proof of what he termed the “reasonable and commonsense suspicion that the real goal [of gun regulation] is to do away with most or all gun rights entirely.” In a Townhall article titled “Yes, They are Coming for Your Guns,” contributor Bruce Bialosky again invoked the specter of an anti-gun conspiracy. He dismissed limited firearms regulation as an attempt to “hide [gun control advocates’] existential goal,” then claimed that “the lid was blown off that charade” by Justice Stevens’ op-ed.

Of course, for many gun safety proponents defending the Second Amendment is not a charade. Though a majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws, just 21 percent support the repeal of the Second Amendment. That statistic alone shows that Stevens is not representative of gun-control supporters. Most proponents of stricter gun laws do not want to take away Americans’ right to bear arms. Many of them are gun owners themselves. Stevens’ op-ed gave a false and dangerous impression of gun control.

Arguments like the one made by Justice Stevens feed directly into NRA propaganda, recklessly endangering the movement built up in the wake of Parkland. Advocates for gun reform should give Justice Stevens and his position a wide berth. Even if his point had merit, an attempt to repea l would be futile and politically infeasible. Those bearing true concerns ought not to waste their voice and efforts on unproductive arguments.

Thankfully, Justice Stevens does not speak for gun reform advocates. Parkland students, March for Our Lives organizers and others do not intend to repeal the Second Amendment or infringe on Americans’ gun rights. Instead, they ask for simple, common-sense measures –– like universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons –– to reduce the risk of another mass shooting. Responsible gun owners have a place in this movement. Despite what Justice Stevens and the NRA claim, pushing for gun control reforms is not an extreme endeavor to erode constitutional rights. Rather, it is a reasonable, widely-supported movement to end unnecessary violence.