President Donald Trump has responded to retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s op-ed calling to repeal the Second Amendment — and he is not a fan.
“THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “As much as Democrats would like to see this happen, and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, NO WAY. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!”
There are several problems with this tweet.
For one, Stevens is a lifelong Republican who was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford.
Stevens’s views also do not reflect the views of most Democrats. Mainstream Democratic lawmakers are careful to caution that they want to regulate guns within the bounds of the Second Amendment. Even activists say the same thing; March for Our Lives leaders David Hogg and Sam Fuentes, for example, have both said that they are not against the Second Amendment.
This seems to reflect the opinion of most Democrats: A survey by the Economist and YouGov, conducted in February, found that 39 percent of Democrats want to repeal the Second Amendment, while 41 percent do not. (The rest — 20 percent — were not sure.)
Even if there was more support for repealing the Second Amendment, keeping the Supreme Court in conservative hands, as Trump suggests, would not do anything to stop a repeal. Repealing the Second Amendment would require super-majorities of Congress and state legislatures. The Supreme Court does not enter into that process.
Trump’s tweet does expose one problem with calls to repeal the Second Amendment: They may give ammo to opponents of gun control. This is something Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of Gunfight, warned about on Twitter following Stevens’s op-ed:
Stevens’s call to repeal the 2A is not only ineffective but worse: it makes it even harder to pass good gun laws today. It plays right into the hands of the @nra which can now point to this op-ed and say, “See, we told you they want to take away your rights and your guns.”— Adam Winkler (@adamwinkler) March 27, 2018
The @NRA says that anyway of course but Stevens gives them evidence to vote when critics object.— Adam Winkler (@adamwinkler) March 27, 2018
You see this kind of thing time and time again in the gun debate: Activists and lawmakers propose mild measures for gun control, like universal background checks, that have near-universal support — topping 75 percent even among Republicans. The NRA argues that if Congress is allowed to do this, it will only be the first step toward far more restrictive laws — insinuating that the real interest of gun control advocates is a full repeal of the Second Amendment and full government seizure of all guns in the US. Through these fears, calls for even mild measures die.
This is why conservative outlets like Breitbart made such a big deal of March for Our Lives organizer Delaney Tarr’s comments that “[w]hen you give us an inch, that bump stocks ban, we will take a mile.”
As Winkler acknowledged, this is something that the NRA and gun rights groups are going to try anyway. But with op-eds like Stevens’s, they have proof that people on the other side of this issue really are interested in something that goes much further.
Calls for repeal could still help shift the Overton window on guns, broadening what’s acceptable in public discourse. After all, the NRA has long worked against policies, like universal background checks, that are enormously popular with the American people. Perhaps an equal counterweight on the other side could, overall, push the US closer to the middle ground that most Americans support.
But for now, the op-ed has given reason for another Trump tweet making it seem like Americans’ Second Amendment rights are under siege.