About two weeks after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I appeared on AtlanticLive’s “Schools Across America: a Miami Town Hall,” produced by Atlantic Magazine. It was planned well before a troubled teen with a legally purchased weapon of war killed a football coach, athletic director, a geography teacher and 14 students at his former high school.
When asked about Parkland, I responded that, “The gun laws we have in our state and country are deplorable. We are one of two countries that constitutionally have a right to bear arms, it’s prehistoric. Personally, it motivates me to think more about what it takes to do a constitutional amendment, and maybe we need to think about that because that’s what needs to be done.”
Gun control will never get around the Second Amendment. We can dance around it like Muhammad Ali, perhaps jab at it with policy like Sugar Ray. But we will never Tyson TKO gun control without amending — or completely repealing the Second Amendment so that individual states can determine for themselves how to regulate personal gun use.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens agrees. He recently challenged young activists to take it a step further and, “Seek more effective and more lasting reform … demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”
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To even discuss in public the idea of a constitutional convention or congressional approval for three-quarters of the states’ legislatures (38) to ratify a constitutional amendment, draws the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike. Do we honestly think that the 39 men that signed the U.S. Constitution 230 years ago, are some sort of deified superheroes who cannot be questioned by mere mortals in 2018? In 1789, the population of America was approximately 4 million, half of which were women, and 800,000 were African slaves — two groups to whom the Constitution did not apply equally.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said during a speech to lawyers and jurists that he would not accept offers to speak at constitutional bicentennial celebrations in 1987 — “For I do not believe,” he said, “that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”
Imagine a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice saying that to a crowd of legal minds. Let that sink in.
Florida should be leading the charge, we have more ways to amend our Florida Constitution than any other state. Florida today is in the midst of a mandatory revision process as the Constitutional Revision Commission meets every 20 years by law. The revision-commission process is entirely unique to Florida. I usually don’t agree with many of the amendments proposed, but appreciate living in a state that seriously considers amendments through a customary practice that acknowledges change in our country.
We have regular constitutional change in Florida. What are we afraid of at the federal level? America has not witnessed a constitutional amendment since 1971 (26th Amendment) when the right to vote was lowered to the age of 18. (I’m intentionally omitting the 27th Amendment regarding compensation for congressional lawmakers. It was introduced in 1789 and passed 203 years later). I wasn’t on this Earth in 1971 and neither were 63 percent of Americans today. Only 6 percent of Americans were adults in the 1960s when three constitutional amendments were passed. American seniors might view a constitutional convention a little differently, and that is a key voter constituency along with the youth leading a new movement in America for gun gontrol.
We’ve never held an Article V Constitution Convention. Why not a Constitutional Convention to discuss gun control among other proposed changes? I think individual states in today’s world should decide this issues. Shootings kill more than 36,000 Americans each year; every day, there is a average of 96 deaths and 222 injuries by gun violence. Of all firearm homicides in the world, 82 percent occur in the United States. African-American children have the highest rates of firearm mortality overall; they are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns in a country where African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population.
Florida should be leading an effort for a U.S. Constitutional Convention. The country is under assault because Democrats and reasonable Republicans will not address racially charged appeals with big ideas that bring people together. But big ideas win elections.
Christopher M. Norwood, J.D. is spokesman for the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida and a Democratic Executive Committee member for Miami-Dade County.