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Bret Stephens: Repeal the Second Amendment

Getty Images (2016)

Getty Images (2016)

I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment.

From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder.

From a personal safety standpoint, more guns means less safety. The FBI counted a total of 268 "justifiable homicides" by private citizens involving firearms in 2015; that is, felons killed in the course of committing a felony. Yet that same year, there were 489 "unintentional firearms deaths" in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 77 and 141 of those killed were children.

From a national security standpoint, the amendment's suggestion that a "well-regulated militia" is "necessary to the security of a free State" is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass.

From a personal liberty standpoint, the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power is curious. Consider the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s or the New York draft riots of 1863 — does any serious conservative think of these as great moments in Second Amendment activism?

And now we have the relatively new and now ubiquitous "active shooter" phenomenon, something that remains extremely rare in the rest of the world. Conservatives often say that the right response is to do more on the mental health front. Yet by all accounts Stephen Paddock would not have raised an eyebrow with a mental health professional before he murdered 58 people in Las Vegas last week.

Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.

There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.

Repealing the amendment may seem like political Mission: Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it's worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones. Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn't outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn't need a blanket constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn't need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that Red Dawn is the fate that soon awaits us.

Donald Trump will likely get one more Supreme Court nomination, or two or three, before he leaves office, guaranteeing a pro-gun court for another generation. Expansive interpretations of the right to bear arms will be the law of the land — until the "right" itself ceases to be.

Some conservatives will insist that the Second Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty. They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe "the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." America was supposed to be different, and better.

I wonder what Madison would have to say about that today, when more than twice as many Americans perished last year at the hands of their fellows as died in battle during the entire Revolutionary War. My guess: Take the guns — or at least the presumptive right to them — away. The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction.

Bret Stephens, a conservative opinion columnist who now writes for the New York Times, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in commentary when he was deputy editorial page editor at the Wall Street Journal. © 2017 New York Times

Even documentary filmmaker (Bowling for Columbine, etc.) and left-wing activist Michael Moore didn't go so far as to recommend eliminating the Second Amendment. In a Facebook post last week, he instead urged Congress to repeal and replace it by passing the 28th Amendment. His suggested wording:

A well regulated State National Guard, being helpful to the safety and security of a State in times of need, along with the strictly regulated right of the people to keep and bear a limited number of non-automatic Arms for sport and hunting, with respect to the primary right of all people to be free from gun violence, this shall not be infringed.

Bret Stephens: Repeal the Second Amendment 10/06/17 [Last modified: Friday, October 6, 2017 1:33pm]
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