Editor’s Note: Bill Press is former co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” and host of The Bill Press Pod. Follow him on Twitter. He tweets @BillPressPod. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? It sure does when it comes to the aftermath of mass shootings.
After Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Margery Stoneman Douglas, El Paso, Buffalo, Uvalde and so many others, it’s always the same.
First, shock. Then, grief. Then, a demand for action. Then, the phony claim: Too bad, but we can’t do anything about guns because of the Second Amendment. And then, nothing is done to prevent the next attack.
This time, could things be different? After the senseless assassination of 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, senators of both parties are actually talking about a compromise on guns.
But don’t hold your breath. No matter what they come up with, chances are still slim that there will be 10 Republicans willing to override the filibuster. (A total of 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster in the evenly-divided US Senate.)
Anything they agree on will probably just nibble around the edges of the gun issue. Sen. John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator, has already vetoed one of the most sensible proposals: raising the legal age for buying an assault weapon from 18 to 21 years.
There’s no way, especially in this election year, that Republicans will let anything out of the Senate that would ruffle the feathers of the National Rifle Association.
President Joe Biden’s proposals come close to what’s really needed, with his bold call for universal background checks, eliminating ghost guns and renewing the ban on assault weapons. But even that’s not enough to convince some conservative Americans that the Second Amendment is an open license arm themselves, even with weapons that belong on the battlefield.
Let’s face it. The way many judges and conservatives interpret the Second Amendment is a total con job. And, as wildly misinterpreted today, it is, for all intents and purposes, a license to kill as many people as you want with as many guns as you want.
The only effective way to deal with the Second Amendment is to repeal it — and then replace it with something that makes sense in a civilized society.
I’m hardly the first person to say that the Second Amendment has been a disaster for this country. In fact, two Supreme Court justices — justices appointed by Republican presidents — have said as much.
In a March 2018 opinion piece for the New York Times, former Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by then-President Gerald Ford, wrote that Americans protesting the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School “should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”
He explained: “A constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”
And decades earlier, in 1991, former Chief Justice Warren Burger, appointed by President Richard Nixon, told the PBS Newshour: “If I were writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn’t be any such thing as the Second Amendment.
Burger called the Second Amendment “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Indeed, you only have to read the Second Amendment to see what a fraud it’s become. Here it is, all 27 words: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Read it again. There’s no way you can logically leap from those 27 words about the existence of a state militia to the unfettered right of any citizen to buy as many guns — and any kind of gun — that they want, without the government being able to do anything about it.
It’s clear from the wording of the Second Amendment itself that it has nothing to do with individual gun ownership; nothing to do with self-defense; and nothing to do with assault weapons. The amendment speaks, not to the rights of well-armed individual citizens, but only to citizens as members of a group, a “well regulated militia.”
And its history is well-known. The founders saw no need to mention guns in the original Constitution. As many constitutional scholars and American historians have shown, the Second Amendment was added later by James Madison as part of a deal to secure the support of Patrick Henry and other White racist Virginians for confirmation of the Constitution. Noted academic Carol Anderson, for one, describes the “anti-Blackness” that lies at the heart of the Second Amendment in her book “The Second,” as well as its “architecture of repression.”
As such, it was not about self-defense. It was, in the opinion of these historians, about reassuring White plantation owners that the new federal government would not interfere with their practice of forming White militias to patrol the South, ready to put down rebellion by disgruntled Black slaves or chase down slaves who tried to flee.
And again, the amendment has nothing to do with self-defense or allowing ownership of any kind of gun. As Stevens noted in his New York Times op-ed: “For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation.”
Two things changed that. First, a band of gun extremists took over the NRA at its 1977 annual convention in Cincinnati and changed its mission from championing the Second Amendment as the right of hunters to giving every American the right to own a gun for self-defense. The NRA proceeded, successfully, to sell that unfounded idea of self-defense to politicians and the general public.
Second, in 2008, former Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, which — again for the first time in over 200 years — established the right of every American under the Second Amendment to own a gun for self-defense. And he rounded up four other votes.
However, it’s important to note that even in Heller, Scalia took pains to argue that as with other rights, those granted under the Second Amendment are not unlimited — and that governments retain the power to regulate what kind of guns, or how many, people may own.
Of course, those provisions of Heller are conveniently ignored by gun worshippers like Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who uphold the Second Amendment as reinterpreted by Scalia. That flawed reasoning allowed a Texas teenager to buy two AR-15’s on his 18th birthday, walk into an elementary school and mow down 19 students and two teachers.
We are a sick nation indeed, if we allow that idiocy to stand.
Of course, it won’t be easy to repeal the Second Amendment. It would require a constitutional amendment, passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-quarter of the states. Or a constitutional convention, called by two-thirds of the states, with any proposed changes approved by three-quarters of the states. But, difficult or not, it’s still the right thing to do.
We are condemned to more and more mass killings until we do the right thing: Stop arguing about the Second Amendment — and just get rid of it.