Regarding former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens’s April 13 Outlook book excerpt, “A second opinion on the Second Amendment”:
Justice Stevens wrote that legislative bodies, not the courts, are best suited to determine appropriate firearms regulations. But does he truly believe in that doctrine?
The Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) rulings were expansions of gun rights with which Justice Stevens disagreed. Quoting from his piece: “I dissented in both of those cases and remain convinced that both decisions misinterpreted the law and were profoundly unwise. Public policies concerning gun control should be decided by the voters’ elected representatives, not by federal judges.”
However, the 1939 Miller decision, which Justice Stevens endorsed, limited gun rights. Why didn’t Justice Stevens likewise state that Miller was “profoundly unwise” and that elected representatives should decide gun policy?
Justice Stevens seems to favor legislatures when he disagrees with the courts, while favoring the courts when he agrees with the courts.
Steve A. Brown, Springfield
Former justice John Paul Stevens offered a truly radical proposal to amend the Constitution. He would limit gun rights to persons serving in the militia and only during their times of service. So, the District again would be able to tell my ex-clients, who justifiably feared for their safety in their drug-infested neighborhoods, that they could not keep a handgun at home for self-defense. Responsible citizens who are concerned about extremist views on gun rights should condemn Justice Stevens’s foolishness.
Robert A. Levy, Naples, Fla.
The writer represented Dick Heller in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller.
Former justice John Paul Stevens called for adding the words “when serving in the militia” to the Second Amendment to correct the court’s misreading of the Constitution. But the phrase is not necessary because the issue is addressed in another part of the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 grants Congress the power to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States.” Thus, unless a person is a member of the militia as established by Congress, Congress has every right to regulate gun ownership by those individuals not in that militia.
The Second Amendment then reinforces that concept by specifically beginning with the words, “A well regulated militia. . . .” No amendments are necessary. And I am a gun owner.
Matthew Murguia, Kensington
Former justice John Paul Stevens’s five-word fix for the Second Amendment would make it clear that only active military have the right to keep and bear arms. But this is the Bill of Rights. What right would such an amendment protect? How would it limit the power of government? Why would the Founders have bothered to protect the military’s right to be armed? Such a guarantee would be a silly waste of ink, paper and time.
Nancy J. Rice, Culpeper
With all due respect to John Paul Stevens, I disagree that the intent of the Second Amendment was limited to the right of the people to bear arms only when engaged in active militia service. Writing in Federalist 29 on Jan. 9, 1788, Alexander Hamilton stated, “If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens . . . who stand ready to defend their rights and the rights of their fellow citizens.”
To me, this is proof that the intent of the framers was that the right to bear arms was an individual right, not a collective one associated only with militia service. It is proof that their thinking centered on the ability of the people to defend their rights from an oppressive and corrupt government, should one arise. This interpretation is consistent with recent Supreme Court rulings, and it is also consistent with the position espoused by the NRA. Adding the words “When serving in the militia” would eviscerate the Second Amendment of its true purpose.
Willis J. Mann, Laurel