Gun-rights advocates slammed retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' suggestion to revise the Second Amendment to specify that Americans have the right to bear arms only when serving in militias.
"That's just idiotic," a laughing Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition, told Newsmax. "The Second Amendment protects my pre-existing right to possess firearms as my right to self-defense and self-governance.
"It is the last bulwark against slavery and oppression," he said.
Dave Dalton, founder of the American Gun Owners Alliance, called the suggestion "unbelievable."
"He does himself one heck of a disservice by making a claim like this, supposedly being a scholar of the Constitution," Dalton added. "I understand why politicians say that, but I don't understand why supposed Constitutional judges would say that."
Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, told Newsmax that the view represented "sour grapes on his part."
Pratt referred to Stevens ending up on the losing side of a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 2008 that upheld individual gun rights in Washington under the Second Amendment.
"His view lost," Pratt said. "His view was the minority on the court."
In an excerpt from his book, "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,"
Stevens suggested that the words "when serving in the militia" should be added to the Second Amendment.
It then would read
: "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."
Stevens, 93, was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford and served from 1975 to 2010. He was among the most liberal justices on the high court.
The book excerpt was published Friday by The Washington Post
In his argument, Stevens cited the many "senseless" public instances in which high-powered weapons have been used to kill Americans since the killings of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.
"Those killings, however, are only a fragment of the total harm caused by the misuse of firearms," Stevens said. "Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents. Many of those deaths involve handguns."
He further contended that federal judges have understood for more than 200 years that the Second Amendment was limited and only applied to military purposes. But the amendment does not limit the power of state or local governments to regulate firearms, Stevens said.
Changing the Second Amendment, he argued, would nullify "emotional" claims put forth by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups that the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution.
But firearms advocates groups disagreed, telling Newsmax that the retired justice has relied on faulty crime statistics and continued to err in his interpretation of the Second Amendment.
"The founders did not establish a right to bear arms," said Pratt, whose Virgina-based Gun Owners of America
was founded in 1975. It has more than 300,000 members.
"They assumed it already existed, that the right of the people shall not be infringed. They already assumed that this was a pre-existing right.
"Then, they said that it 'shall not be infringed' — and gun-control advocates frequently want to skip over those words," Pratt said.
Knox called Stevens' arguments "disingenuous."
The Firearms Coalition
, founded in 1984, is headquartered in the Phoenix area. It has more than 3,000 individual members and nearly 1,000 member organizations.
"Gun laws that infringe on the Second Amendment attack me, the law-abiding American, and ignore and do nothing for reductions in crime or to prevent the deaths that he is talking about," Knox said.
"Has a gun-control law ever been demonstrated to reduce crime? No."
Dalton, of the Pennsylvania-based American Gun Owners Alliance
, said that any effort to change the Second Amendment was being done solely for "political benefit, and it's wrong. We will fight it to the death — literally."
The move also would "flush" away the context in which the Constitution was written by the Founding Fathers, he added.
"They had the fortitude and education to know that if we really want this country to survive forever, this is what it has to be based on," Dalton told Newsmax. "And today, it's, like: 'It's just a piece of paper. It needs to be rewritten.'
"What happens if, God forbid, the government says, 'All your freedoms are gone?' What’s going to happen then?" he said. "Who's going to protect the people? It's the people's job to protect this country.
"That's why the Second Amendment is there. It's the Second Amendment. The Founding Fathers felt so strongly about this that the only thing that trumped it was the freedom of speech," Dalton said.
For his part, Pratt welcomes any debate over changing the amendment.
"That would mean gun-control advocates would at least be honest for once about their intentions," he said. "Instead of pushing for Draconian gun restrictions — while hiding behind words like 'gun safety' — 'gun safety' really means, 'We just want the military and the police to have guns.'
"Bring on the debate," he added. "Let's get them out of the closet."
But such debate would not be worth the effort, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax.
"There's no way anybody's going to amend the Second Amendment," said Dershowitz, who identifies himself as a "gun-control person."
"I would not amend the Second Amendment. Once you start amending the Bill of Rights, you're tampering with posterity — and you're risking one of the greatest documents of freedom ever devised."
Dershowitz said he believed Stevens' suggestion would bring the Second Amendment in line with the original intent of the Founding Fathers.
"He's probably right in saying that the original Second Amendment probably had more to do with preventing the federal government from stopping state militias from being disarmed."
However, "I take the bad with the good," he told Newsmax. "I can improve the Fifth Amendment, easily. It's written very awkwardly. The Fourth Amendment is written very awkwardly.
"You don't amend the Magna Carta. You don't amend the Bill of Rights. There are certain things that you just leave pristine.
"The Bill of Rights has served us well since 1793," Dershowitz said. "I wouldn't mess with it."
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