What Would It Take To Repeal The 2nd Amendment?

Feb 27, 2018
Originally published on February 27, 2018 8:18 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Second Amendment reads as follows. (Reading) 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.

Following the mass shooting at a Florida high school, we have heard debate about mandating background checks, banning bump stocks and extending waiting periods. But does the Constitution really make it possible to reconcile gun rights and gun control? I'm joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent on our Washington desk, Ron Elving.

Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So there was this op-ed in The New York Times by conservative columnist Bret Stephens recently. It got a whole lot of attention. He said we should repeal the Second Amendment. So let's look at that. What would it actually take?

ELVING: There is a process for it. It's right there at the end of the Constitution. So the Founding Fathers were at least willing to be edited. They just really made it hard. First, you need to get supermajorities in Congress, two-thirds in both the House and the Senate. And that's an enormous hurdle, especially in the Senate. But even if you get it through Congress, you still need to get your amendment ratified by three-fourths of the states. That's at least 38 states. That has happened only once in the last 40-plus years, and it's a big lift even before you start to talk about the popularity of guns and the power of the NRA.

MARTIN: So not very likely then, is what I hear you saying.

ELVING: Not very likely, given our current politics or the current makeup of Congress or of the many state legislatures. But that is not to say it's impossible in time. It just means you need a lot of things to change, and things that have not changed yet even after all these mass shootings that we've had.

MARTIN: So many gun control advocates focus on one particular line in the Second Amendment about a well-regulated militia, saying it proves that the right to bear arms was never intended to go beyond civil defense. How has that argument, for limiting gun rights, held up in the past?

ELVING: There are historians who say the framers just meant strictly limited militias like, say, today's National Guard. But the Supreme Court 10 years ago came down pretty much on the other side, saying the right to bear arms is an individual right.

MARTIN: So recent polling, though, right now - there's a lot of people in this country who want tighter gun laws. I mean, doesn't that put some kind of pressure on Congress to do something?

ELVING: Yes. Yes, it does. And they may well do something. The Supreme Court has said that the individual right, while it is individual, it may be regulated. And this time, we may get stronger background checks, or a higher purchase age or some of the other things that you were talking about a moment ago. But all those things could be done without repealing the Second Amendment, and then it would be up to the courts to decide if the stricter limits violated the Second Amendment. And if the courts did decide that, perhaps that then would put more pressure on the amendment itself.

MARTIN: NPR's Ron Elving with a history lesson for us there. Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.