Why you should care
Because maybe it’s time for gun control groups to think big.
Editor’s Note: We originally ran this piece after the Las Vegas shooting in October, but it is sadly relevant in light of Wednesday’s school shooting in South Florida, in which at least 17 people are dead.
All 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the awkwardly worded reference to “a well regulated Militia,” have been top-down — proposed by Congress, ratified by the states. But there’s a bottom-up option, via Article V, that allows for a new constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states. It could happen sooner than you think, and it might be the only ticket to a real shift in America’s gun laws.
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the worst in an only-in-America parade of mass shootings, Congress has taken the most heat. But aside from possible new restrictions on “bump stocks,” which let a semi-automatic rifle mimic an automatic, gun control activists cannot expect much there. Credit (or blame) goes largely to the effective lobbying of deep-pocketed gun manufacturers and the army of enthusiasts who will mobilize and vote on the gun issue above all others.
Perhaps it’s time for the gun control movement to get creative and go big.
Some states have stronger laws than others — Nevada’s are among the weakest — but the Supreme Court has set a hard limit. The 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case cemented an individual’s constitutional right to a firearm, extinguishing the District’s handgun ban. The Second Amendment stands as a seemingly unshakable pillar of American life. Even gun-control-loving Democrats must pay homage to it before describing modest reforms, such as banning large magazines.
But what if someone took an editor’s pen to those contentious 27 words about the right to bear arms? Enter the Article V convention. So far, 27 states have called for a new constitutional convention. If seven more do so, it’s on. And no one is quite sure how it would go. The states would have to come up with a process to send delegates, and any topic is on the table. “The possibility of mischief could come from more than one direction,” says Michael Gerhardt, a law professor and constitutional scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The primary issue behind the Republican-led convention push is a new amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget every year. But three-fourths of state legislatures would have to ratify any proposal, so a purely partisan agenda would flop. That could lead delegates to some sort of grand bargain. Could a Heller-defying Second Amendment edit that allowed handgun bans be paired with a balanced-budget amendment? Or you could have a life-themed package: ending, or revamping, the right to an abortion and the right to bear arms at once. Anyone up for that trade? Remember: The Supreme Court is likely just one anti-abortion justice away from overturning Roe v. Wade.
At this point, fiddling with the Bill of Rights is not on gun control groups’ radar. “We don’t support any push to repeal or alter the Second Amendment, because we believe the Second Amendment is perfectly in line with the smart gun laws we advocate for,” says Garrett McDonough, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Background checks, restrictions on felons and the mentally ill, and restrictions in certain public areas are all fair game under the currently worded amendment. But it appears none of those would have stopped Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, or many of the rampages that have become all too familiar. Perhaps it’s time for the gun control movement to get creative and go big.