Retired associate Supreme Court Justice Stevens’ recent OpEd calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment was no surprise. After every incident like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at least one call for repeal of the amendment pops up.
The Second Amendment grants people the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) for some purpose. The debate, since at least 1939, has been about by whom and under what circumstances that right is to be exercised. But if the amendment were repealed, what would actually change?
Per the Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876), the Second Amendment doesn’t grant anything to anyone. Quoting from the majority opinion: “The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.
The Second Amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government.”
In short, RKBA is one of the rights that Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence as “inalienable.” Jefferson further discussed the proper purpose of government as not to grant rights, or deny rights, but to secure rights. And when government fails to secure those rights, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
If the federal government were to repeal the Second Amendment, it would have no effect whatsoever on my RKBA, or yours. But it would definitely have an impact on the legitimacy of the federal government.
Daniel D. Shaw,
National Rifle Association,