In order to clear up what one commentator calls the “exquisitely awkward 18th century syntax,” Stevens proposes adding five words to the present version of the Second Amendment. Stevens’ revised Second Amendment 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.
In his newest book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, Stevens offers the following defense of his proposed change:
Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands.
Slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands? The fact is that it is governments, not civilians, that have been responsible for the killing of over 300 million people in the 20th century alone.
Stevens’ proposal not only would allow regimes to retain access to their weapons, but would leave private citizens powerless to oppose future slaughters.
An irrefutable fact of armed violence unaddressed by the former Supreme Court justice in his haste to confiscate our arms is that all the murders committed by all the private individuals in history don't amount to a fraction of the brutal killings committed by “legitimate governments” using the very weapons over which they alone would exercise absolute control under Stevens’ version of the Second Amendment.
So, not only would Stevens’ new Second Amendment substitute a a privilege granted by government for a right given by God, but it would substitute his wisdom for that of our Founding Fathers. Sounds like a risky exchange.
Stevens makes another mistake in his draft of a new Second Amendment: that of underestimating the role and nature of the “state militia” as understood by our Founding Fathers at the time the Second Amendment was ratified.
George Washington understood better than any of his contemporaries that a well-trained but otherwise ad hoc army composed of state militias could prove itself powerful enough to defeat the invading forces of a mighty empire. General Washington recognized the urgent need for a disciplined, organized, and independent state militia.
As the continental commander-in-chief, Washington knew very well that training an army of citizen soldiers — many of whom used their muskets for little more than hunting — was crucial to restoring the freedom of America. In fact, it was the need for a more well-regulated force that compelled Washington to hire the Prussian officer Friedrich von Steuben to drill the soldiers of the Continental Army. Washington's experience in the War for Independence likely inspired this quote, as well:
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Photo of Justice John Paul Stevens: AP Images