Retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens Suggests Adding 5 Words to Second Amendment to Clarify Right to Bear Arms

Monday, April 14, 2014
John Paul Stevens (photo-Danny Johnston, AP)

Five little words. That might be the difference between life and death for a classroom of first-graders, a theater full of movie-goers or shoppers talking to a Congresswoman at a grocery store.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens writes that for most of our nation’s history, the right to bear arms was understood to refer to “keeping and bearing arms for military purposes,” and that states and municipalities could regulate the ownership and use of firearms. The landmark case in that field, United States vs. Miller, ruled in 1939 that Congress could prohibit sawed-off shotguns.


In his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, excerpted in The Washington Post, Stevens writes that when Warren Burger was chief justice of the Supreme Court (1969-1986), no justice expressed doubt about the limits to the rights extended by the Second Amendment. Then, organizations such as the National Rifle Association started agitating that federal regulations violated Americans’ right to bear arms.


Two cases changed the way Americans look at the Second Amendment. The first was District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court decided the Second Amendment protects a civilian’s right to keep a handgun in his home for purposes of self-defense. In another 5-4 vote, this time in 2010, the court decided in McDonald v. Chicago that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment limits the power of the city of Chicago to outlaw the possession of handguns by private citizens. Stevens was in the minority both times.


Even those cases did not totally limit the rights of Congress, states and municipalities to restrict the use of firearms. The Heller opinion dealt only with firearms as used in the home for self-defense and did not address concealed weapons or weapon types.


So Stevens proposes a five-word change to the Second Amendment. As he would write it, it reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”


Those five words, which would clarify the Second Amendment to bring it in line with what Stevens says is the framers’ intent, could prove to do more to protect generations to come than all the armed guards in the world.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

The Five Extra Words That Can Fix the Second Amendment (by Justice John Paul Stevens, Washington Post)

One Week after State Gun Control Setback in Federal Court, S.F. Wins One (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


Bob Barker 4 years ago
This guy was a supreme court judge ? Wow no wonder why things are getting as bad as they are. If his proposed changes were made, Who is to say who could be in the militia? Ohh THATS right only the Government. His proposed changes would result in one thing, Confiscation. Or attempted confiscation that is. This guy being a Supreme court judge is disturbing in the very least.

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