Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says your right to self-defense in your own home should be limited to a cellphone “at your bedside.”
Stevens, 92, served on the Supreme Court for 35 years before retiring in 2010. A liberal jurist, Stevens wrote the dissenting opinions on both the 2008 Heller ruling and the 2010 McDonald decision, both of which were 5-4 affirmations that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s civil right to keep and bear arms.
As the guest speaker during an Oct. 15 luncheon hosted by the anti-gun Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, Stevens offered a suggestion to millions of Americans who legally keep a weapon in their home for self-defense.
“Maybe you have some kind of constitutional right to have a cell phone with a pre-dialed 911 in the number at your bedside and that might provide you with a little better protection than a gun which you’re not used to using,” he said to laughter, according to an Oct. 16 article by Reuters.
In addition to telling Americans to trade in their rifles for cellphones, Stevens said the Heller and McDonald rulings leave room for restrictions on the right to carry outside the home, bans on certain styles of firearms, elimination of carry rights in “sensitive” places and background-check requirements for private gun sales.
“The Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations prohibiting the ownership or the use of the sorts of automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado and Arizona in recent years,” he said.
Emily Miller of the Washington Times said Stevens’ statement reveals how little he actually understands about firearms and, apparently, current events, by “incorrectly lumping together semi-automatic and automatic weapons, which already are highly regulated.”
Stevens went on to say that the legal precedent for restricting gun rights — United States vs. Miller — still stands, despite Heller and McDonald rulings.
The 1939 Miller ruling limited “the scope of the Second Amendment to the uses of arms that were related to military activities,” Stevens said. “The Court did not overrule Miller. Instead it read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.”
This interpretation of Miller is flawed, most legal scholars contend, and was strongly rebuked by Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller. Scalia described Stevens’ argument as “simply wrong” because he “flatly misreads the historical record” of the Second Amendment.
“In both of his dissents, Justice Stevens contended that the right to keep and bear arms was limited to state militia service,” said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. “It was, and remains, an astonishing position on a fundamental civil right.”
Gottlieb said Stevens’ speech “clearly underscores” the importance of November’s Presidential election because the next four years could present opportunities to substantially change the complexion of the Supreme Court. Two pro-Second Amendment justices — Scalia and Anthony Kennedy — will be 80 by 2016.
If either, or both, leave during a second Obama Administration, it is likely their Obama-nominated replacements will share Stevens’ views on the Second Amendment, not those of Scalia and Kennedy, stacking the Court against gun-owners’ rights for “the next 30 years,” said Chris Cox, executive director at the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in April.
“If that happens,” Cox adds, “the Second Amendment will be reduced to a government-granted privilege.”
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