In an op-ed Thursday, Bret Stephens, whom the New York Times presents as its token "conservative" columnist, declares that, following the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, it's time to "Repeal the Second Amendment."
"I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment," Stephens begins. The reason, he explains, using dubious logic and some cherry-picked statistics, is that "more guns means more murder," "more guns means less safety," the whole "well-regulated militia" idea is "quaint" in light of modern warfare, and the notion of personal liberty being defended by a gun is nonsense.
In an age of active shooters, concludes Stephens, it's time to repeal the outdated Second Amendment.
"Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones," writes Stephens. "Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn’t need a blanket Constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn’t need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that 'Red Dawn' is the fate that soon awaits us."
Given that Trump will likely have the opportunity to appoint at least one more Supreme Court justice, Stephens suggests liberals and "conservatives" of his ilk should not wait around hoping for an activist judge to overturn current interpretations of the Second Amendment. Instead, it's time to go all in on rewriting that troubling part of the Constitution that enshrines Americans' rights to protect themselves with firearms.
"Expansive interpretations of the right to bear arms will be the law of the land — until the 'right' itself ceases to be," writes Stephens, saying aloud what most gun control activists won't let themselves utter in public for fear of exposing their true goal.
"Some conservatives will insist that the Second Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty," he writes. "They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe 'the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.' America was supposed to be different, and better."
"I wonder what Madison would have to say about that today, when more than twice as many Americans perished last year at the hands of their fellows as died in battle during the entire Revolutionary War," he posits. "My guess: Take the guns—or at least the presumptive right to them—away. The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction."
A number of conservatives have provided rebuttals to Stephens' call for stripping away what the founders believed important enough to make the second priority in the bill of rights. David Harsanyi dismantles some of Stephens' key premises, including that "more guns means more murder," a claim, Harsanyi notes, that "ignores the vast evidence that the number of guns does not correlate with the murder or the crime rates."
Stephens' assertion that guns aren't extremely important for public safety, Harsanyi underscores, is based on the simplistic math of the number of justifiable homicides (in which citizens kill a criminal with a gun) versus the number of accidental deaths by firearm is absurd on its face. "[T]here is no way to quantify how many criminals are deterred by the presence of guns, or how many, for that matter, are turned away in the midst of crime," Harsanyi writes. "Has anyone calculated how many non-gun-owning families are safer because their neighbors own firearms?"
But, as Ed Morrissey argues, perhaps the biggest failure of Stephens' argument is the failure to acknowledge or grasp the notion of "the natural right to effective self-defense":
The Constitution protects that right rather than grants it, and for good reason. Stripped of that ability, citizens would demand an ever-increasing police state that would erode all other liberties, a trend which we see in other contexts — such as the war on drugs. Without the 2nd Amendment, we’d have a stampede toward that result as criminals would gain a strong-arm advantage over law-abiding citizens. That recognition of natural law, and of citizens’ ability to live by it, is part of our moral and constitutional legacy — not the usurpation of liberty by the state.